During the past two decades, the term “contingent workforce” has been invoked to capture the growing share of individuals working in less traditional employment arrangements, such as independent contractors, temporary workers, and short-term employees.
While some pursue these arrangements by choice because of the freedom and flexibility they may afford, many others would prefer full-time, steady employment. Indeed, many companies hire contingent workers in an effort to avoid legal protections and benefit obligations typically afforded to regular employees.
Being treated as a disposable part
Along with the stressful economic insecurity often accompanying contingent employment, there can be the maddening emotional impact of being treated as a disposable commodity. An excellent personal account of this dynamic appeared in Dollars and Sense magazine, by writer and activist Dan DiMaggio, who responded to an ad for call center workers (link here). A short snippet:
First, after interviewing for the job on Monday, we were told to show up early Tuesday morning for eight hours of training. So we arranged babysitters, reshuffled schedules at our other jobs, and canceled meetings and classes. Then on Monday evening, we were called and told training had been moved to 1pm on Tuesday. So we rescheduled everything again, in order to dutifully display our flexibility.
At some point during training, we also learned that most of the shifts we’d signed up for had been changed. And that we were going to be working weekends, despite explicitly being told during our interviews that this was a Monday through Friday job. Then we found out that the actual job wouldn’t start until Thursday, though we were repeatedly told that we had to be available immediately.
These excerpts can’t paint the full picture. If you’re interested in how workers have become just-in-time commodities in today’s economy, read DiMaggio’s full account; it won’t take long, and one story can be worth a dozen research studies. And you’ll learn what finally happened to everyone once they jumped through the required hoops.
As the effects of the Great Recession continue to manifest themselves, temporary and short-term work has been one of the primary “growth areas” of the “recovering” job market. Scenarios like this one are being played out in offices and manufacturing plants across the country, as people struggle to pay the rent and feed their families.
Dollars and Sense is a magazine that advances a progressive perspective on economics. For subscription information, go here.