Guide The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America

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  1. The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America
  2. Site Search Navigation
  3. Temp work raises long-term questions for economy - CBS News
  4. More Employers Are Relying on Part-Time, Contract Workers

With all due respect for vultures, there is no better word to label the "employers" and associated parasitical employment agencies who are taking advantage of the desperate by offering non-permanent "jobs" for measly pay, no benefits and no rights. It's a return to serfdom.

History tells us that serfs were compensated with just enough reward usually thin rations and rudimentary lodging to ensure they could perform the daily hard labor required by the overlord. Hitler's gang of thugs utilized the same logic in the concentration camps, for those "lucky" enough not to be instantly exterminated. In essence, serfdom is an aspect of Darwinian survival, so we should not be surprised that after a fleeting interlude called the Enlightenment, Homo unsapiens is reverting to normal patterns of unvarnished abuse and exploitation of the masses by the privileged class, the latter whom are nothing more than the latest generation of psychopathic thieves and plunderers also known as Alpha males.

The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America

Decline of the Empire. Home Archives Profile Subscribe. Remind me again—why does the internet exist? The strategy was an extraordinary success Yes, American employers have generally taken "the low road" regarding their workers. Gee, I wonder why? Comments You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Such success meant important changes for the temp industry. By the s, the vast majority of companies already used temps, and not just every once in a while. As the U. Temp industry marketing campaigns, which had played such an important role in cultural battles over work from the s to the s, became much more muted. Instead of seeking to convince employers to think of work and workers in a new way, temp ads of the s generally sought to gain market share: Manpower executives wanted employers to choose them over Kelly Ser vices, Kelly leaders wanted employers to use them rather than Olsten, and so on.

Industry leaders leveraged their cultural triumph into even greater growth for themselves and their model of work. Temp executives were key creators, and key beneficiaries, of the newly dominant liability model, and they aggressively explored every way to maximize and institutionalize its dominance. In doing so, they helped transform the experience of work not only for temps but for all workers in America.

Understanding the transformation of work requires widening the narrative lens. Pulling focus away from temp industry publications and advertisements, we now turn to the broader story of workplace change and conflict, analyzing how temping became institutionalized in the American economy.


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The story unfolds along three axes. Second is the institutionalization of temp work: The industry played a surprisingly important role in the wave of corporate restructuring that swept the business world of the s. Last is the introduction of temporary work into two long-standing holdouts of the asset model: the unionized sector and the U. The changes introduced by the temp industry during this time period were dramatic and, in some cases, even shocking.

Temp leaders helped pioneer and institutionalize some of the most controversial elements of the new economic order. But it is important to note, again, that the temp industry was not alone among proponents of the new liability model, and despite its strategic importance and explosive growth, the industry was hardly a dominant economic player.

In fact, by the end of the s, it accounted for just 1 percent of U. Temping was no bit player. Moreover, the temp industry had a ripple effect on many workers beyond the relatively limited circle of actual temps. Recall that corporate executives had learned to lay off workers—in some cases, thousands at a time— and replace them with temps; some even forced their permanent employees to become temps. Such actions helped create a climate of insecurity even for those workers who did not lose their jobs.

Even more important, perhaps, is the fact that employers started using temporary workers as new and powerful weapons against labor unions. As employers increasingly used temps to replace permanent employees during labor disputes, the bargaining position of all unions was weakened, not only those whose strikes were broken by temps. Just as the cultural strength of the asset model had real consequences for workers in the postwar era, the cultural strength of the liability model had real consequences for workers in the s, not only in terms of increased job loss and lower wages for some workers but also in heightened fear and anxiety for many more.

The temp industry was already a well-established economic sector and an increasingly popular tool for implementing the newly revived liability model of work.

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In the first year of economic recovery, national employment grew less than 1 percent; temp employment spiked In , industry observers estimated that there were somewhere between twenty-five hundred and five thousand agencies in the United States; by the end of the decade, estimates ran from seven thousand to more than ten thousand. Manpower alone provided temps to some , different employers every year. In fact, most national contracts are now for a year. We used to have assignments that lasted only one week, but now, we are even starting to see two-year contracts. Meanwhile, older temp agencies continued to diversify, creating divisions that specialized in a variety of white-collar occupations, particularly in health care.

Norrell Temporary Ser vices, for example, entered the medical field in , and by the end of the decade medical staffing accounted for 25 percent of its business. Make the wrong choice and it could be costly. Temp executives were no longer confined to a narrow corner of the secondary labor market by their murky reputation or fear of union antagonism. Women have always had these kinds of jobs. For many, temporary employment offers permanent career satisfaction. Story after story in newspapers and magazines extolled the sovereignty of this new class of professional temps.

Do they feel neglected, exploited, left out? Some may yearn for the security of a big company payroll, but most do not. An increasing number. It makes them feel like the Lone Ranger, rather than just a cog in a machine. For instance, in , U. Two years later, he was earning just ten dollars an hour as a temporary accountant. Unable to find permanent work in the depressed region, Marty had started temping at Apple Computer. There is no security, no insurance, no company benefits.

The temp industry even reached such exotic corners as the nuclear power industry.

Temp agencies Dillin Nuclear Inc. The New York Times interviewed one temporary jumper, who was also a part-time college student and part-time cab driver.

Temp work raises long-term questions for economy - CBS News

They do make it lucrative. By the s, a number of large corporations had come to rely so heavily on temps that they decided to stop using outside temps and launch their own in-house temp ser vices instead. The agency was so successful, in fact, that Georgia Temp managers began marketing their ser vices to other companies in the Atlanta area.

By the mids, Georgia Temp was providing temporary workers a day to Georgia Pacific and another temps to various companies around the city. According to a report by the Bureau of National Affairs, in the mids the bank was relying on numerous temp agencies to deliver as many as eight hundred temps a month. Bank executives told the Bureau of National Affairs that the venture was a great success: Not only did they save money; they also secured a steady pool of temporary workers who were more committed and productive than traditional temps.

The temp industry had become what sociologists call an economic institution, playing a key role in the inner workings of the economy.

More Employers Are Relying on Part-Time, Contract Workers

Th is can be seen in the way the industry was used in the wave of corporate restructuring that swept the business world in the s. During this time, corporate executives such as Jack Welch were unapologetically laying off workers, cutting training programs, and outsourcing non-core departments—all in the name of greater flexibility in order to compete in the newly globalized economic environment. Temporaries are the people who support that core.

Your business seems to be beginning to pick up. But you hesitate. Is now really the time to hire full-time?

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Kelly Ser vices can be a safeguard in these unpredictable times. Thus, in an ironic twist, industry leaders were using asset model rhetoric to institutionalize their liability model of work. Turnover and absenteeism usually increased after particularly high volume weeks. But then he learned about a management tool from Norrell called Peak Period Staffing. Working with his Norrell branch manager, Alan developed a job description of what was expected during the high volume times. Norrell searched out the qualified employees and made sure they were trained to handle the job so they could immediately step into the situation.

The result is that now Alan knows his permanent staff can be counted on for the routine work, and that when the unexpected workflow begins, qualified help from Norrell is a phone call away. The work is done faster, at less strain on his star employees— so he keeps them longer. And Alan is able to relax. Embracing the notion of workers as liabilities, many companies had downsized dramatically. As a result, the remaining employees had to take on more work. The institutionalization of the liability model thus required greater reliance on temporary workers, reifying the strength of both the temp industry and its model of work.

And, for a growing number of companies, it worked. Businesses such as HewlettPackard and Motorola were able to ride the considerable ebbs and flows of the high-tech economy without committing the large-scale layoffs for which many other companies—including Chrysler, General Motors, and General Electric—had been vilified earlier in the decade.

How so? For instance, at Apple Computer, temps accounted for as much as 30 percent of the workforce in the mids. This company never wants to have one again. It affects every single person in the organization.


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  • The people who remain feel guilty that they were the ones who stayed and anger at management for letting the layoff happen. Beyond operationalizing corporate restructuring, the temp industry also built itself into an economic institution by becoming a leading purveyor of worker training. Not only were corporations of the s lowering labor costs by cutting workers; they were also cutting training programs.

    Early in the decade, temp industry leaders took note and began offering free training programs to temps, particularly in the fastchanging field of office automation. Manpower was the first and arguably the most successful to do so. By the mids, Manpower had become a major training provider, not only for temps but for permanent workers as well.

    It thus sparked a self-reinforcing cycle: Businesses downsized their workforces and cut training; temp agencies developed state-of-the art training programs and offered free training to temps; then, with the expectation of getting skilled temps at no extra cost, businesses cut their workers and training even more; temp agencies ramped up their training programs to get more business; and employers relied ever more on temps.

    For some companies, in fact, it was training rather than price that convinced them to go with one temp agency over another. Temp leaders may not have invented the new liability model of work, but they went a long way toward implementing it for American employers. The Temp Industry and Redoubts of the Asset Model in the s The temp industry had such success with its new liability model of work in the s that it was even able to make inroads into two longstanding holdouts of the asset model: the unionized sector and the U.