Temp agencies. They’re the bottom feeders lurking in the depths of our faltering economy. Why do we need staffing agencies–whose supposed purpose is to help people find work–when the real unemployment rate is over 10%? That’s 30 million people out of work or severely underemployed. And 10% is the conservative estimate.
“‘In a fundamental way, what we’re watching is the shrinkage of America’s working class…As the post-recession period moves on, the nation is settling into the fact that what we have now is what we’re going to have. It’s not a transitory phase. If anything, it’s going to set in even deeper.’” —Connecticut Post
I’ve worked with temp agencies twice in my life: once in New York City and now in Wisconsin. The temp agency I worked for in New York City was as corporate as they come, complete with the high rise office, the arbitration clause, the low hourly wages, and that helpful non-compete clause. From the agency’s website:
“In consideration for my employment by S–, I agree that during any assignment by S– to any client and for a period of 180 days following the completion of my last assignment through S– at that client, I will not accept employment by, or perform services for, that client, either directly or indirectly through another staffing firm or otherwise, without the prior written consent of S–.”
Yes, that means that, unless the staffing agency places you in a temp-to-perm position, you’re not allowed to apply for a job at the company where you’ve been making connections and gaining experience. A lot of us fail to read this small print. Including me.
This temp agency placed me at HarperCollins doing admin work for 2 months. It was fun: I got to meet lots of book-wormy types, fish around on the bookshelves for galley copies, and try and catch the comings and goings of famous authors. Sure, there were plenty of downfalls, too: I didn’t get paid much, I had to clock out for my lunch break, and I was treated like a temp: i.e. I was never really part of the department. Nothing long-term in meetings was ever addressed to me, I was given tasks no one else wanted to do–like re-alphabetizing 15 bookshelves with no cart–and I was forced to share office space with other employees. People don’t always appreciate having a stranger thrust into their office, listening to their phone conversations and sniffling for 8 hours a day.
Still, particularly as a recent MFA grad, I loved working in publishing. The moment my placement was up, I began hunting around on publishing companies’ websites, hoping to find something, anything. I applied everywhere BUT HarperCollins, but my mere 8 weeks doing admin work in the audio department didn’t impress anyone.
I finally broke down and applied to Harper, hoping that they might let temp agency thing slide. Nope. When I got hold of someone in H.R., I was told that not only would they not consider hiring me for that 180-day period, but they wouldn’t consider hiring me for a full year. Apparently, hiring me within a year meant they’d have to pay a referral bonus to the temp agency, so it was a financial disincentive. So much for all the schmoozing I’d done.
After several weeks without placing me, the temp agency threw some little receptionist and admin gigs my way, but nothing as long as my placement at Harper. How long would I have to subsist on low hourly wages with no benefits, not knowing where–or IF–I’d be working from day-to-day?
(to be continued)