Temp Work Experiences

Wage slavery at its finest

Temp work is a mixed bag. It can be convenient, but dealing with temp agencies can be frustrating. The pay is nothing to be happy about.

I started work as a temp with an assignment in a printing house. A few other folks and I sat around, each with our pile of pictures, and pasted them onto the blank squares. These became the free real estate guides you see around town.

That job lasted two days. On the first I learned that some folks would spend lunch time at a bar - "it helps you get through the afternoon". That wasn't my idea of work. The other problem is that the place reeked of the chemicals used in printing. When I mentioned this to a co-worker, she realized that's why her laundry room smelled bad. That was enough for me. I'd rather keep my lungs intact. I called the agency and got a new assignment.

It was filing and data entry for a state agency. I stayed there a long time. After the first (tiring) month of filing, I was moved to a full-time data entry position. It was great. I picked up a bundle of work in the morning, went to my desk and cruised to tunes on my cassette player. Nobody bothered me at all. At the end of the day I turned in what I'd done. If there were any quotas, I must have passed them. My supervisor never said anything about them. It was almost perfect slack.

A problem arose, and it was money. After a few months I realized that I actually had a skill, and I was making less than I should. I called the temp agency (Kelly) and asked for a raise. When I mentioned that I was doing data entry, they got off the phone quickly. In a short time I was demoted back to filing. It seems the person at the agency had incorrectly described the work to me; it was a filing only position.

This didn't make me happy. I ended up taking Kelly to small claims court for lost back wages, and settling for a nominal amount. What I found fascinating was that nobody was willing to tell me how much Kelly was getting for my services, even though they were contracted to a state agency. Their contract information should have been publicly available, but both the state and Kelly wouldn't disclose it.

I quickly jumped ship to the agency that had the contract for data entry workers, so I got my position back. I stayed there a bit longer, then got a permanent clerk position with a different state agency - "Hello, New York State Employees' Retirement System, Terminations Unit. May I help you?". That's a different story, though.

The lesson to be learned here is that temp work is bad for you. My experience itself was for the most part good, but it was horrible economically. You can't live on what you make as a temp. The agency's taking a pretty good sized chunk of what you make, and they probably do ten minutes worth of work for you a week. To them you are completely replaceable worker drone meat. You're better than that.

Financial Details

A completely partial source (Jeff Kelly, who created the zine Temp Slave!) estimates that for each $10 paid to a temp agency, you receive only $6. I can't verify that at all, but it seems about right. A company that employs temps isn't paying them benefits, so they can afford it. You get screwed by temp agencies.

For more bitter perspectives, try Kelly's book best of Temp Slave! (Garrett County Press, 1997).


1999-07-04. A friend related the story of applying to a temp agency. They offered him a programming job for $9/hour, which he refused. Upon contacting the employer directly, he learned that they were paying the temp agency $25/hour. You can do the math.

2002-05-15. More data: a temp agency I worked for was paid $32/hr, while I received $25/hr. That's about 78 cents on the dollar. Frankly, I'm surprised that the rate was as high as it was.

Last updated 15 May 2002
All contents ©1998-2002 Mark L. Irons