Precarious work is now at the forefront of much academic research and journalism, and with good reason. These investigations show that precarious employment has led to increased instability, insecurity, and vulnerability for a significant and growing population of workers.
Yet I believe there is more work to do in this vein. We need to identify how this sprawling sector of the economy is changing the rules of employment for workers. Because all workers—and disadvantaged workers in particular—who are already “playing” this “game” on an unequal playing field are losing rights and power at work.
An example of this much-needed research is the recent report by Reveal News’ Will Evans, which documents racism, sexism, and other discriminatory hiring practices in temp agencies. As this report shows, at least some employers are outsourcing illegal discrimination to the temporary help industry. Yet such practices are obscured—and, therefore, largely undetected—because of the convoluted structure of temp work and lagging employment law. In particular, the originator of the discrimination is obscured because the employers who insist, for example, that temp agencies send only “country boys” (i.e., white men) or “mujeres” (i.e., Hispanic women) are not the legal employer of record and are therefore not held responsible for illegal hiring practices. Meanwhile, the enactor of the discrimination—those temp agency managers so eager to keep companies’ business that they readily engage in illegal practices—can easily hide behind the presumed precarity of the temp economy, dishonestly telling only some temps that no jobs are available or that their jobs have been suddenly canceled.
This is not an inevitable outcome of the temp economy, but when such illegal actions are unregulated and overlooked, it is not surprising that they have become one of the ways that employers use temp agencies to change the rules of the labor market for workers.