Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Kelly Girl

Advertisements are a reflection of our society.  This Kelly Girl dates to 1971, but Kelly Services still has many of the same policies in place 40+ years later according to this ProPublica article on the phenomenal growth in temp hiring since the crisis of 2007-08.  Today, corporations farm out their labor the same way they do their products, with an estimated 2.7 million temporary employees in the national workforce.

The majority of these workers are women, finding them subject to tremendous amounts of stress as they have to pitch up as much as two hours early to see if they have work for the day.  Michael Grabell follows Rosa Ramirez, a modern-day "Rosie the Riveter," who at one point was making air filters for the Navy.  None of these temp jobs led to permanent work.  She's been working for a temp agency for 12 years, with virtually no benefits and little in the way of savings to show for it.

Initially, temp companies like Kelly Services were designed almost exclusively for women looking for "pin money."  Today, fewer companies wanting to pay workers' compensation, health care or provide pension plans, temp agencies have flourished, subjecting their workers to unacceptable conditions, especially in the blue collar sector.  The situation is most sever in inner cities, where it looks like we have drifted back to the late 19th and early 20th century, with a preponderance of immigrant workers, who accept these conditions because of limited opportunities.

This echoes the Lowell mill girls of the 1830s, who were easy to control and for the most part were saving toward dowries.  It wasn't long before textile mills exploited the situation, especially with the flood of immigrant workers from the mid 19th century onward.

Unions haven't make much effort to organize temporary workers, partly because of the constant flux of labor.  Unions are more concerned with maintaining permanent jobs.  Attempts at keeping temp workers from crossing picket lines were struck down by the Federal Trade Commission.  In 2004 the National Labor Relations Board barred temp workers from joining permanent workers for collective bargaining unless their temp agency agreed.  Fat chance, especially when many of these temp agencies pride themselves on being anti-union.

The use of sub-contractors allows companies like Walmart to absolve themselves of any blame in the crude practices rampant in the packaging industry, just as these retailers shield themselves from their overseas subcontractors who make many of the products on the shelves.  Naomi Klein explored the international garment industry in No Logo, which has become standard operating procedure in most industries.

While Kelly Services no longer opts for the sexist ads, it still offers many of the same perks to corporations, allowing them to tap into a vast reservoir of cheap labor without having to assume any of the burden of full time employees.

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