Michael Grabell writes about economic and labor issues for ProPublica, where he has produced stories for the New York Times, NPR, CBS News, USA Today and Time magazine. He most recently produced a series of stories documenting wage theft and safety problems in the growing blue-collar temp staffing industry. ProPublica is a non-profit news outlet founded in 2008 to fill the gap in in-depth reporting as the media was cutting back the resources needed for such journalism. Grabell is the author of Money Well Spent? (Perseus, 2013), a nonfiction book chronicling President Obama’s attempts to revive the economy from the Great Recession, as well as the poetry chapbook, Macho Man (Finishing Line Press, 2014).
Temp Land: Working in the New Economy
The U.S. economy now has more temp workers than ever before. One-seventh of the total job growth since the recession has been in the temp sector, and the American Staffing Association estimates that a tenth of all workers find a job at a staffing agency every year. Nearly all the growth has come in low-paying blue-collar jobs at factories and warehouses, where workers suffer high injury rates and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.
The growth has led to a proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino immigrant neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for white and African-Americans with vocational training to find blue-collar work without being hired through a temp firm.
Grabell, an investigative reporter for ProPublica, takes us to these temp towns, where workers wait for hours in labor halls in a modern-day version of the “shape up” or line up in alleyways for neighborhood labor brokers known as “raiteros” to shuttle them to the supply chain of some of America’s largest companies.
He will also present a new data analysis by ProPublica, which shows that temp workers have higher injury rates than regular employees doing the same type of work. The research took an experimental approach using workers’ compensation claims data from Florida, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon. Temp workers are at greater risk of severe injuries such as amputations, and the injury rate is growing.
Grabell will tell the stories of the workers behind the data from first-person interviews and OSHA investigative files.