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The Almighty Buck

Temp Troops of High-Tech 476

A submitter sends in this story about temp work in Silicon Valley, from the point of view of the temp. Compare almost the same story written from the point of view of's management.
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Temp Troops of High-Tech

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  • Thats becuase most CEO's of internet startups are now fired. And hoping to be temps to earn the average temp wage of $75,000.
  • Another side (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smaughster ( 227985 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:37AM (#2881429)
    The most scary thing about reading such articles is that I always have a feeling that it will end up being fiction, having a happy ending, yet finding out that these things really happen, even in civilised countries.
    • Well - it probably isn't fiction - but it's also a 2 year old story!

      Things are probably VERY different now-adays because temps are especially having problems finding jobs now! We have a 6.1 percent un-employment level here in the valley right now. That was down at something like 2 percent during 1999. Times have REALLY changed.

      I work for a consulting company which puts teams of engineers on projects. Not that different from a temp agency, just a different area of operation. The big diffeence here is that it's plain to our employees that they are OUR employees. Just as in this report our managers handle people issues not the company we contract too. I think we do a better job of things like pay checks and such but I saw alot of parallels in that story. Since we are deploying engineers, the pay checks are larger (yeah - around that 75K figure..)
      The working conditions are usually better too, but that is mostly because it's an engineering position.
  • I used to mount tapes as a vendor to IBM... man... that work was a pain.... same wage walking eight hours a day to feed damn tape machines that would never slowdown... that god for VTS tape libraries.. It was amazing that in the year 2002 people are still manually mounting tapes for mainframe systems.. we even had a bunch of old reels... that would occationaly light up waiting for a mount.
  • Judge Smails: The world needs ditch diggers too!
  • by Reinout ( 4282 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:46AM (#2881451) Homepage
    There is mention in the beginning of the article about it being strange to have so much non-hightech work in such a hightech-area. That's not so strange if you think about it. The whole ecommerce thing is about selling stuff. The stuff that gets sold normally can't be send over the internet, so you need FedEx, the postal service, etc. What they're missing out on letters that get send, they're gaining in packages...

    And the high-tech (?) printers and so also in the end need packaging, sending, assembling. You can automate some parts, but...

    When you read a story like this, it just keeps reminding me of early 20th century conditions that made socialists movements all too understandable... Some people just don't seem to care. Or not to be allowed to care by some system...

    • But what is it about ecommerce which means your plant has to be near your headquarters? Assuming your headquarters are in Silicon Valley why would you put a production plant in an area where real estate and labor costs were so high? It seems it is because of the location that both workers and managers have to go to extremes.
  • The world economy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sobrique ( 543255 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:46AM (#2881452) Homepage
    The world economy has always been built upon the backs of a 'disposable' workforce.
    Let's face it, paying minimum wage to people is cheaper than automating a production line (and of course, they can argue that they are providing valuable jobs).
    It's heavy handed and unethical (IHMO) but companies (with a _few_ limited exceptions) are only interested in the bottom line.
    I've done the temping thing for a while, and there was certainly variety (like I'd be in a different job every week), but you are also treated as little more than 'an extra body'. They can get another one easily enough, so they can get you to work, trample on you, and if you go replace you in a day.
    (Much happier now I'm working full time doing 'skilled' rather than manual labour. Least this way I get a month's notice before being told to walk)
    • by mip ( 534317 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:17AM (#2881560) Homepage
      Capitalist economies require a pool of unemployed workers to allow for continued growth. Full employment is bad news for such a system. Read this page [] for further details.

      On unemployment it says that it is a necessary condition for a capitalist system, as long as it doesn't get too high - it is upto the individual to find employment and change their status. Capitalism is economic individualism.

      Should society look after the people or should the people look after themselves? I think, as in all things, balance is required.

      • by hawk ( 1151 )
        That's overstated. Think of the alternative: zero unemployment means that noone is training for better jobs between jobs. No social mobility. You can't change employment. It all comes down to *why* people are unemployed.


    • by gaj ( 1933 )
      The whole point of business is the bottom line. Companies that are not primarily focused on turning a profit have a special name: failed. How much good does a failed company do for the economy?

      If you are easily replaceable, that's your own damn fault. The fact that there are those willing to replace you means that the job, however foul to you, is desirable to others. If you want a job that is more palatable to you, do what it takes to get one. Learn a skill, learn a trade, start your own business; whatever it takes. If you choose not to take the steps necessary to improve your lot, you have only yourself to blame.

      As for your comment about production line automation, I cannot remember a time that production line automation came to a plant that formerly employed human labor to do the job that didn't result in much wailing and gnashing of teeth when said workers were laid off. How does replacing workers help them?

      Or are you suggesting that the firm should automate the line, then keep the workers on as paid spectators?

      I'm glad you now have a more skilled position; it's nice to improve your lot, isn't it?

      • The company I work for is profitable, but not
        as profitable as it could be if management were
        focused solely on the bottom line.

        Heartlessness is neither necessary nor sufficient
        to prevent bankruptcy.
      • hrmm.. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by poemofatic ( 322501 )
        It's not a simple as you make it sound.

        If your goal is to switch places with "ana" in the article and yell at some other sop, then go get a degree in management, work hard, and maybe one day you will get to hold the whip.

        If your goal is to improve the lot of people in general, then address the systematic incentives in our economy for these sweatshops. Atleast minimize them. Maybe change the playing field so that these types of parasitic business models are punished.

        Why parastic? Well, these temp workers are not going to be buying a lot of printers. The idea of the worker who can afford his own model-T is sustainable. Having a horde of disposable temps who make stuff that only a shrinking middle class can buy is parasitic.

        What are the incentives for these sweatshops?

        the above hidden cost is not paid.

        The big 5 accounting firms have successfully lobbied the SEC to not require reforms in reporting compensation packages. This allows management to pay themselves more, because this pay is hidden from shareholders. This (along with LBOs and management sitting on each others' boards) is a big source in shifting money from supervised to supervisory employees (total labor costs have remained constant). This can be addressed with accounting reforms.

        The laws on the books protecting the rights of workers to communicate and organized are not enforced. Scared, disorganized employees are then confronted with organized management which is confident it can break the laws with impunity.

        make the true owners (hp in this case) legally responsible for how their employees are treated. Let defacto employees == legal employees. Again, this is a shell game which we let the big boys play to avoid responsibility and bad p.r.

        the article contains an example of clearly an illegal firing. This was done for political purposes and without cause. The employee can no go to unemployment and uncle sam foots the bill. Companies who want this kind of "flexibility" should then pay for it by paying much higher unemployment insurance. Companies who don't engage in these practices will have lower costs.

        Not paying someone's paycheck is illegal. How about some enforcement on that.

        Immigration reform. If you come here you can work for anyone. Companies who decide to use the INS as their personal manpower recruiter should then pay some of the INS's budget, no? While those who don't shouldn't pay this cost.

        openness. No secret meetings, no policies of "we can't tell you if a list exists, and if it does, wether your name is on it." Documents relating to your employment should be accessible to you. More inspectors, more news coverage. HP, Amazon, IBM, know the power of goodwill in the marketplace.

        There's nothing wrong or shameful with washing dishes, carrying boxes, loading packages, or seasonal employment. It's possible to treat these employees well, have everything above board, and enforce their rights. Many countries manage to do it, and it's more a matter of political power and organization which prevents it happening here. Remember, there is nothing inherently more indispensible or rare in another kind of seasonal work: the business consultant. But the latter has powerful (non-"market") institutions which protect his interests: academia, networks of friends, cultural prestige, congressional lobbyists. These interests tweak the business climate to support him.

        Just think:

        You want to shut down a plant, but can cover your ass if some fancy name consultant recommends it. Guaranteed income for Anderson Consulting!

        A ceo (say for Cisco) gets stock options. If the business goes up, he gets 700 million, if it goes down he pays..nothing. The utility function doesn't dip below the x-axis. That's called, in economics, a "moral hazard".

        These examples are due to institutional policies which benefit these two groups. Nothing at all to do with working hard, free markets, or improving yourself. Everything to do with culture, the legal system, accounting rules, and business practices. In short -- power. And there are ways for dishwashers and assembly workers to be powerful, too. Not artificial ways, but natural ones, since everyone needs/wants dishwashers and loaders. Poeple have to be forced into hiring lawyers and consultants. Simple power of the vote, of organizing, of information can be enough to make the life of the seasonal worker much better.

    • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:17AM (#2881895)
      Let's face it, paying minimum wage to people is cheaper than automating a production line (and of course, they can argue that they are providing valuable jobs).

      There are plenty of people who believe capitalism can do no right, to wit:
      • They're automating the factories, driving workers out of their jobs!
      • They're employing workers to do menial repetitive tasks better left to machines!

      The fact is, even in the developed world, there are lots of jobs that don't require anything more than repetition. Another fact is, the most you can earn is the economic value you produce, minus the cost of doing business. Third, the seller sets the price no more or no less than the buyer - for a transaction to take place, there must be mutual agreement.

      I've done the temping thing for a while, and there was certainly variety (like I'd be in a different job every week), but you are also treated as little more than 'an extra body'

      Well, that's what you are, an extra pair of hands to do the work. You show up, you do the job, you get paid, you go home. A lot of work is necessary, but very simple, and varies in demand - look at the Amazon story about seasonal rush. The alternative is to have very slow service during peak times, and/or high prices during the slow season, to support an idle workforce.

      It's heavy handed and unethical (IHMO) but companies (with a _few_ limited exceptions) are only interested in the bottom line.

      The market - the customers, you and I - have indicated by our behavior as market participants, that we want good prices and fast service. The only way to do this is with a flexible workforce.

      Another point made in the article was that many temps come from countries where there is no economy to speak of. Many Westerners are spoilt; a bad job and a little money is much, much better than no job and no money.
      • The thing you market fundies always forget is that
        the "buyers" and "sellers" of labor power are
        never on an equal footing.

        The use of power in the employer/employee relationship
        distorts the market in favor of the employer.
        I mean, read the article. In an ideal, frictionless
        market, if the buyer (employer) didn't pay what
        they'd agreed to pay, the seller (employee) would
        take her "goods" (labor) elsewhere. But she has
        rent to make and kids to feed and is not free to
        act as an ideal market participant.
      • Third, the seller sets the price no more or no less than the buyer - for a transaction to take place, there must be mutual agreement.

        This is true if both sides have an equal need to reach an agreement and both sides are equally informed about the value of the work. And of course there would need to be equal negotiating skill.

        Obviously someone who desparately needs a job is in a worse individual bargaining position than a company that has 500 employees doing the same work and wants to hire 1 more. While negotiating, the individual can walk away if wages or conditions aren't good enough, but the consequences are great -- possible eviction, children without healthcare, etc. But if the company refuses the individual's final offer, then the company is understaffed by less than 1%. That might mildly affect the morale and profitability of the company, but it obviously wouldn't be desparate. And the fact is, the one with the most ability to walk away from a bad offer is in a powerful position.

        As for knowledge, it is difficult for an individual to learn the true value of their labor. While it is possible, most people aren't aware of what they are worth. And if you undervalue yourself, you are in a worse bargaining position. Imagine buying a used car, thinking the car is worth $5000 more than the salesman knows it's really worth - you will clearly pay more than you might have with more accurate information, just as if you knew the value and the salesman undervalued it by $1000 you'd end up with a bargain. And if a lot of people looking for a similar position undervalue themselves or are desparate, then suddenly your value goes down, even if you have accurate knowledge and are not desparate.

        And, of course, negotiation is a skill -- if you've only negotiated three or four times for a salary, you won't be as skilled as someone that has done it a dozen times, or someone whose job it is to be a good negotiator.

        This all adds up to most people being in a situation where it is not an agreement between equals. And this lowers the value of all of our labor, since we are only as valuable as someone that might be used to replace us.

        So, that leads to the question -- how can we best increase our value, so that we are on an equal footing when reaching an agreement with an employer, or even tip the scale in our favor? For one, we need to ensure that the employer is more desparate than we are -- if refusing an agreement might put us on the street, then it would be best if the employer would risk going out of business if they refuse. We need to make sure that not only do we as individuals know what we are worth, but we need to make sure that all others that do similar work know their value. And we need to make sure that others have the skills needed to stand up for themselves. And to tip things even more in our favor, we need to lessen the risk of standing up for ourselves -- if one person stands up, the employer risks little by getting rid of them, but if we stand up together for issues we have in common, we have less risk and the employer has more.

        Now, when I say we need unions, I mean it is in our best interests to organize together as I described above. We certainly don't need corrupt union officials or unions that spend our money on even more corrupt politicians.

        But there are a lot of other options -- you can form an independent union, and make it as democratic and decentralized as you like, or you can find an existing union to your liking (there is a broad range both within and outside the AFL-CIO).

        Personally, I recommend the IWW [] -- a union long known for being the most democratic and least bureaucratic of unions, with a constitution that forbids any entanglement with political parties.

    • At least as far as this article is concerned, the workers here were being paid well over minimum wage at $8 an hour. Yes with CA's cost of living that pay sucks, but it's the cost of living in CA. When I last checked, jobs in California didn't pay much more than they do where I live, but the cost of living was 2.5 to 3X of here.

      Depending on your skills, one of the advantages of temping (of which I've done quite a bit of) is that you can LEAVE or be reassigned to another job if you hate it. Or you know you'll be out of there soon. Sometimes, I thanked my lucky stars that I didn't work somewhere permanently! At least you got to see it from the inside first! Yeah, it's work without the benefits, but also without the commitment on your part too.

      I liked the variety of temping. How you're treated can depend on the atmosphere of the company, but it depends on your attitude too. I was amazed at the number of employers that would put up with sloppy work or chronically late (really late) temps.

      One thing I did gain from temp work was walking into different situations and a broader background.
  • by f00zbll ( 526151 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:54AM (#2881484)
    I've heard horror stories from friends. One in particular has to do with foriegn programmers who are brought in with work visas. The hiring company holds both the visa and their passport. The programmers are threaten that if they don't work 12hrs a day, they'll be sent back. Typically, the programmers are paid 1/4-1/2 the wages of a citizen. High tech is not immuned to slave labor practices and mentality. The whole idea of staying with a company for 50-60 years doesn't exist anymore. Although some companies use it as a selling point in their recruiting, most companies have a policy that dedicate the opposite. Now more than ever, intelligence is necessary for steady employment.
    • One in particular has to do with foriegn programmers who are brought in with work visas. The hiring company holds both the visa and their passport. The programmers are threaten that if they don't work 12hrs a day, they'll be sent back. Typically, the programmers are paid 1/4-1/2 the wages of a citizen.

      Yeah, I've heard these stories too, and they're mostly from foreigners-are-stealing-our-jobs and unionize-programming types. For a start, it's illegal to pay an H1B holder much less than an American doing the same job (either 90% or 75%, I can't remember offhand). H1B visas are bound to a company, true, but it is possible to transfer a visa between companies, and L1 visas require that you've worked for the company overseas for at least a year, unlikely if they treat their people badly. Finally, I don't believe that passports could be held. I've lived and worked in the US (I'm British) and frequently needed to present ID (for example, going into a bar, getting on a plane, etc) and I can tell you, you can't do much in the US without some form of ID, most Americans use their driving licences, and if you don't have one, you need your passport.
      • One in particular has to do with foriegn programmers who are brought in with work visas. The hiring company holds both the visa and their passport. The programmers are threaten that if they don't work 12hrs a day, they'll be sent back. Typically, the programmers are paid 1/4-1/2 the wages of a citizen.

        Yeah, I've heard these stories too, and they're mostly from foreigners-are-stealing-our-jobs and unionize-programming types. For a start, it's illegal to pay an H1B holder much less than an American doing the same job (either 90% or 75%, I can't remember offhand).

        You both are wrong, though the first writer is closer to the mark. The company may not "hold a passport", but changing jobs will start the clock over on the green card process - also, many foreign contract programmers (Indian firms particularly, or American firms like Syntel that are predominately comprised of Indian H1-B visa holders) have draconian contracts that bind them to the company for multiple years.

        And speaking from first hand experience, I will tell you flat out that many of the foreign programmers are working at 50%-75% (the 1/4, at least here in America is not accurate) the rate an American would receive. You can quote law and such, but the fact of the matter is it is happening. Just as I lost a position to a cheaper H1-B visa holder - through subcontracting or other loopholes cheap labor is attained in this fashion. No, not all foreign programmers fit into this paradigm (more experienced and talented individuals are paid on par with American workers), but the bulk of programmers brought over fit into this category - new or relatively inexperienced programmers (0-3 years work experience) - sold as "professionals" (but with unverifiable credentials in most cases - at times the relevant experience consists of being handed a manual on the plane trip over to America) but paid like paupers. Again, I know because I've experienced the scenarios first hand, having been displaced by cheaper foreign immigrants, after training them to do my job. There really isn't much protection for American workers, and those who proclaim "it won't happen to me" will be saddened when the "Neutron Jack outsource everything" program comes to their company.

      • For a start, it's illegal to pay an H1B holder much less than an American doing the same job

        Technically true, but in practice it's a law without force -- because it's impossible to define "same job" for programmers, engineers, and scientists. 1/4 the wages is an exaggeration -- but it's generally possible to find some American, somewhere, doing a job for $30K that _sounds_ like the same one you wouldn't accept less than $60K for. So if they don't want to spend $60K, they advertise that job for $30K, find no qualified applicants (surprise, surprise), and then get an H1B.

        It doesn't necessarily save any money -- they have to recruit overseas, do all that paperwork, wait a few months for the gov't to process it, pay for the plane flight, and then they may get employees that don't understand English well enough to fully understand the specs. But the budget looks great up front, unless and until you get into overruns because the H1B's aren't working out as expected. And corporate management nowadays seems to be all about looking good on the next corporate statement, never mind that those projects that are allegedly 75% done (because 75% of the budget has been spent) are really only 25% done.
  • by buckeyeguy ( 525140 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:56AM (#2881491) Homepage Journal
    I worked a few awful temp jobs shortly after getting out of college (back when 'entry level' stuff didn't exist in IT), so I can sympathize with the narrator of the Silicon Valley story.

    But at the same time, this story happens in thousands of businesses around the country, every day of the year. The pay is low, the work is tedious, and the management oppressive and degrading. Where I work now, the fulfillment center is the major part of our company... supply-chain services, as it is being touted nowadays. It's the 'new economy' that was made so much around the start of 2000... but it's still the same old labor-intensive machine. So, IMHO, there's really little news to see here, for those of us who have worked outside the cubicle.

    And temp agencies? Don't even get me started...

  • Temping. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:56AM (#2881493) Homepage
    Speaking as a former "contract employee" for the good people of Verizon, it's a lot like being the world's most low-class whore. You get passed around from job to job like a dirty sock, and eventually booted out onto the street with a keyboard print on your forehead from spending so long bent over your desk.

    On the up side, at least I'm not bitter.

  • by Denito ( 196701 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @09:58AM (#2881498) Homepage

    One of the most common sentiments on slashdot is how backwards governments are and how technology makes them obsolete.

    But you see something like this-- maybe things like workplace safety standards are still important...
    With all the libertarian sentiment here on /., its easy to forget the role that wired or not, there might still be an important role for gov...
    • Saftey standards? How does that even apply. It's not like a few (or even many) paper-cuts are a saftey issue.

      This sounds like a perfect opportunity for an invention. These workers need gloves tough enough to protect their hands from paper cuts, but thin and slightly tacky, so they can open the plastic bags. Perhaps some type of latex? Either that, or the plastic bags could be dispensed by a machine that gives a little puff of air to pop them open as they are dispensed, perhaps with a bit of corn starch to keep it seperated. Probably not even all that expensive a machine to build.

      Or they could whine about it.

      Which sounds more likely to solve the problem?

      • Gloves (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kris_J ( 10111 )
        These workers need gloves tough enough to protect their hands from paper cuts, but thin and slightly tacky, so they can open the plastic bags
        Just cut the ends of the gloves' fingers off -- you only need the fine control at the finger tips. Seriously, how hard is it to "innovate" this last step?
  • No Respect (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hates ( 168348 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:08AM (#2881533) Homepage

    Reading an article like this does nothing but make me feel quite weak and ill. Thinking that people in a country like the USA are treated like nothing more then a pair of hands really really bothers me.

    I read sooo many articles written by these company CEO's or whatever, telling the reader how they are now customer focused and how great they are doing, but the honest truth is they treat their employees as if they aren't human.

    Companies need to learn that it's their work force that makes them what they are. I'm sure they believe they are being effictive by getting rid of "bad" workers who complain and want better standards, but have they ever really just taken a step back and wondered how much BETTER production would be if they were to treat their workers with respect and give them the security they need and desire?!?
    • Re:No Respect (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      you want the company to pay a box loader more than $8 an hour, but you'll be the first to go online and find the lowest price for any item you want to buy, thereby putting the company that pays higher wages out of business.

      this is the hypocrisy of the consumer.
    • Reading an article like this does nothing but make me feel quite weak and ill. Thinking that people in a country like the USA are treated like nothing more then a pair of hands really really bothers me.

      I hate to put this so bluntly, but here goes: there are many people whose sole economic skill is the ability to perform repetitive work.

      Now, these may be great people with interesting lives and many talents, but everyone's got to put bread on the table, and to do that, you need to be able to do something that someone is willing to pay you to do.

      As I said in another post, a bad job and some money is better than no job and no money.

      but have they ever really just taken a step back and wondered how much BETTER production would be if they were to treat their workers with respect and give them the security they need and desire?!?

      Despite what you might like to think, corporations are not stupid, and if they really could get better productivity (and higher profits) by doing so, they would.
      • The question is, what happens when the market
        value of manual labor is not enough for a manual
        laborer to live on?

        Many here will say "it's the laborers' faults",
        but for every laborer who refuses to work below
        a living wage, there's another who will take the

        So why don't they organize? Well, look at what
        management at the HP plant did to people who tried
        to organize. It's not like the labor market is a
        level playing field -- management has plenty of
        opportunity to talk to each other, for example,
        but workers get fired if they talk to each other
        at the workplace.

        What are we doing, as a society, when we require
        that certain work be done but we don't offer the
        doers enough compensation for the work to even
        make ends meet? What does this say about our
  • by bdavenport ( 78697 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:11AM (#2881540) Homepage
    so in the first, we have a full on temp agency with no company employees working on site, workers are being manipulated, silenced and fired...essentially sounds like a terrible work environment.

    in the second (amazon), you have 7.5% of the work force as temp workers, with no mention of abuse, forced silence, etc.

    and you want us to draw a comparision from the 1st to the 2nd?

    flame all you want, but what is it with /.ers and amazon? i am not holding amazon out as mother teresa of corporations, but having 3700 full time employees out of 4000 - that says to me that amazon at least gets it a little. sure, during xmas amazon is trying to squeeze every ounce of work out of its employees, but no where in that article does it mention abuse.

    what an unfair ire should be directed at HP if you ask me.
    • Ummm. No, that's not what it says:
      Amazon's warehouses employed only 4,000 temps and 3,700 full-time employees
      So by my book that's 52%
      In 2000 that number looks more like 62%...
      • right right....never get up at 4AM and try to quit drinking coffee in the same day...ugh!

        still, i am not sure the correlation between the evils of Manpower Inc (who i have worked for as a temp)/HP and Amazon. of course, the NYT article is not written from an insider's perspective.

        appreciate the correction!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Overworked? Impossible - he's paid hourly.

    Underpaid? Well, get another job with your obviously menial skill set making more than $8/hour. What's that? You can't? Well, see, if we paid everyone 9 bucks an hour, we'd have to let one person go for every 8 we give the raise to. Also, why pay 9/hour when there's people lining up to work for 8?

    Essential? No, your job function is essential. You are not.
    • Overworked? Impossible - he's paid hourly.

      So by that logic, it would be okay to fire a person if they couldn't keep up with a 20-hour working day?

      You're confusing overworked with underpaid. "Overworked" means "having more work than you can be reasonably expected to complete in the time available". It has nothing to do with how much you're paid, or whether you're paid hourly or not.


    • This form of argument reminds me of the "Iron Law of Economics" which said that the proper and natural rate of pay for unskilled labour was one that was *just* above starvation level. David Ricardo's view was that nothing but stark need limits the numbers of people who are propagated and who endure. As a result, humans will forever live on the verge of starvation and the inevitability of mass poverty. In Ricardo's view, profits and wages were in flat conflict for the rest of the product. An increase in profits, other things being equal, meant a reduction in wages; an increase in wages must always come out of profits. Increasing profits necessarily meant an increase in population, leading to an increase in the price of things. The producer/landowner/capitalist must necessarily reap the rewards. The natural price of labor is that price which is necessary to enable the laborers, one with another to subsist and perpetuate their race, without either increase or decrease. [excerpted from Family Dynamics 7400.608-001 [], U of Akron (?), David D. Witt, Ph.D. [mailto]]

      More simply put, it was assumed for a long time that if the minimum wage were raised beyond basic subsistence levels, then the population would increase, leading to sharper competition for jobs which would depress the wage rate, until starvation occurred then the drop in population would make labour scarce and thus cause a rise in salary according to the law of supply and demand. So for the better part of two centuries, it was believed that it was not possible to raise the minimun wage more than bare subsistence - the "Iron Law of Economics".

      Funny how most western countries have managed to mandate minimum wage scales over the past half century without plunging us all into economic chaos.

      So what's my point. My point is that just because an economic theory is logical and consistent doesn't necessarily mean that it is correct. Your assumption, sir, appears to be that people are replaceable machines to be purchased at the minimum cost. But you are leaving out a number of factors. Morale in any team of workers is not a factor to be despised. A happy worker is normally a better and more efficient worker.

      It also leaves out the moral question. An enterprise does not exist in order to make a profit. No, really, it doesn't. A company *needs* to make a profit in order to exist, but that's not its function. "A company exists in order to fulfill some market segments needs or wants." And dare I suggest that taking care of the clients - who provide you with the income - is no less important that taking care of the workers who produce whatever it is that you are producing. (All my management texts suggest that that is the more efficient paradigm.)

      I suppose what girned me the most was the assumption implicit in the post that labour issues were only an economic matter. IMHO, piffle!

      • I think American minimum wage tends to run a little bit _below_ the bare subsistence level envisioned by Ricardo. If you are single and can find one hell of a good deal on housing, you might just make it on minimum wage. With a family, you're eligible for welfare...

        Note however that Ricardo didn't imagine zoning laws and building codes forbidding the workers from living in really inexpensive housing -- in his day the lowest class of workers would live in one room, no plumbing, minimal heat, and built from sticks, scraps, and mud. You could do a whole lot better than that and still spend less than half of the minimum cost of our regulated union-built "low-income" housing. Nor did Ricardo imagine cities sprawled for 50 miles, so that most workers had to drive to work. We have "progressed" from a condition where the average worker could barely afford to bring home food for his family, to one where a couple hours of work will buy a day's food, but about 25% of the population can't pay for a home out of their own earnings and have enough left to get them to their job.
  • The most amazing of this is the fact that so many people are getting this jobs as the best think they can get. The third world labour conditions are being moving to the country, you get the same people who would be working on this factorys on their homelands and put the people and the work conditions near you. And maybe they get paid a little better than on their countrys but the CEOs spend a lot fewer, they con't have to delocate the factory, and get a better image.
  • I thought Amazon was going to be using the Segway. no mention of it here.

    unless it is for the super management types to roll around and lord over folks or something.

    typical of manual temp agencies, there is no reason to give when you are dropped from a job. because then they might have to justify their practices. this puts them just a few steps away from the attitudes of slave masters, not quite tyheir, but close.

  • Been There (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScumBiker ( 64143 ) <.scumbiker. .at.> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:17AM (#2881561) Homepage Journal
    Having been a temp worker in Florida, back in the early '80s, I can really sympathize with the article. It totally sucks not knowing if you can even pay the rent, much less eat. I was working at a pc board plant. Something like 80% of the workers were temp. Everybody was scared of getting shitcanned. The pay was terrible and the managers/supervisors constantly screamed and threatened people. Lovely environment, in other words. Thank managed to pull myself out of that morass and moved forward.

    All I can say to people that are trying to live on temp work is, get to school! Somehow, anyhow. I don't care if it's tech school for one semester. Even that little bit of knowledge can help. Also, learn English. Learn how to speak it so that even slow midwestern people like me can understand you. I know it's challenging to the extreme, but my ancestors came here and had to do the same thing. BTW, I'm *not* trying to flame or be prejudiced here, I'm simply trying to state facts. Please read and judge accordingly.
    • BTW, I'm *not* trying to flame or be prejudiced here, I'm simply trying to state facts. Please read and judge accordingly.
      Unfortunately this is the case. An ideal world is one where everyone is equal. It remains the case that in many parts of the world, this is blatantly not so. The average salary for a woman is overall lower.
      If your english is not so good, then someone 'fluent' in it is going to assume you are not as clever. (This is leaving aside the _possibly_ valid point that if you cannot communicate well with your employer, then you are also unlikely to do so with you collegues).
      Unfortunately discrimination is a fact. It's built from prejudices about what your idea candidate will be. So often getting a job is about presenting yourself to your employer in a favourable manner.
      You'll often find that a manager's impression of an ideal employee is sort of like themselves but younger - same skin color, similar accent, quite close in age. This is simply because of something which is fundamentally ingrained in an awful lot of people. You grow up surrounded by a particular set of people. Differences are instinctively percieved to be 'not right'.
      Sad, maybe, but true enough. Eventually the world will realise that there isn't really any difference (most do now at an intellectual level, but until as kids, it becomes a commonplace thing, then it's not going to change at an instinctive level), but the process is saddeningly slow.
      • >> You grow up surrounded by a particular set of people. Differences are instinctively percieved to be 'not right'.

        You're right, thank you. I grew up in a small city in Wisconsin. The entire time I was growing up, until I was about 16 or so, I saw exactly one black family (I think they where vacationing), I don't really remember any hispanics or orientals. I wasn't in a sheltered situation, that's just the way it was. I pray that I'm not biased by that. More than likely I am though. This is a good insight into living and working with fellow workers from India, China, Africa, and I'm sure other places. Give us white folk a chance to adjust! I, at least, am trying to grow and change.
      • Re:Been There (Score:3, Insightful)

        by markmoss ( 301064 )
        If your english is not so good, then someone 'fluent' in it is going to assume you are not as clever.

        No, but if I cannot understand what you are saying, on most jobs it doesn't matter if you are clever. I cannot tell if you understood the instructions, you'll have trouble telling me about problems that arise, and how are you going to communicate with fellow employees or the public? For office jobs (most of the good jobs), communication is critical. For sales and other public-contact jobs, many large American companies do hire people whose English is unintelligible to me, but there is considerable risk of losing customers who get asked "do you want flies with that", or note that United Airline's employees in Korea speak much better English than their employees in San Francisco.

        For lousy jobs, speaking English matters less, but there are not so many of those jobs as there used to be. When my Dad ran a cherry farm, the best pickers tended to be migrant families with very little English -- just hand them the buckets and ladder and point to their row of trees. But this job has been done by machine for 30 years now. Or if I was hiring a ditchdigger, I could pick up the shovel and _show_ you what to do. But I can rent a trenching machine that does the work of several men for less than hiring one, so that job is pretty much gone, unless you can demonstrate that you can run the machine or work together with the machine operator. (And if the whole crew speaks Spanish, that's fine as long as one man speaks English too. Since he's the one I can explain the job to, he'll be the foreman and paid more...)
  • First impression (Score:4, Insightful)

    by inerte ( 452992 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:20AM (#2881572) Homepage Journal
    Editor asked to compare. I read and saw:

    Raj talks about people. He cites a lot of names, feelings, relationships. It's constructed around what people are feeling about a situation, the actions that they are seeing and their reactions;

    And Amazon's Management talks about numbers. It quotes lots of statistics, managers, and 'market condition'. It's constructed around what people are analysing about a situation, the actions that they are taking and the reactions.

    It's classical from a literature perspective. And IMHO, I prefer much more Raj's point of view.

    But maybe I am a misplaced human on a capitalist society ;-)
    • Re:First impression (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Sobrique ( 543255 )
      But maybe I am a misplaced human on a capitalist society ;-)
      Please report yourself to the thought police forthwith. Such displays of humanity are incorrect and you must therefore be lobotomised.
    • Re:First impression (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jht ( 5006 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:42AM (#2882074) Homepage Journal
      You're spot-on, but there's a catch:

      Raj knows his co-worker/fellow temps. He forms relationships with them. But there's only a small group (relatively) that he works with. He doesn't know most of the other temps, nor does he know the workers on the other shifts, nor most of the full-timers, or anyone at their other facilities.

      He might know _of_ them, but to Raj they aren't part of his world. If something happens to them, it won't really register on his radar screen because he no personal connection with them. This is important - it's part of why the management at HP (or Amazon) can easily deal with cutting workers to boost profits. These workers aren't part of their world. They're just statistics on a P&L sheet. They don't have a direct relationship with the people their fates depend on.

      Is this necessarily bad? I'm not sure. I think depersonalization is a necessary evil to go with growth - people only have room for x amount of connections in their own "personal network". managers can only handle a certain number of direct reports on average before things become inefficient (not enough time to maintain the connections or devote enough attention to each person). That's where middle management, sub-groups, and smaller organizational units come into play - to preserve as much of that as possible.

      The largest company I've worked for (where I am now) employs 152 people directly. But for the last two years we've also been a part of a much larger "virtual" organization (through a pool with several other insurance companies of equivalent or larger size). Once we leave the cozy confines of my 152-person location, a lot of these issues come into play - decisions have been made that affected people that probably would have been made differently in a smaller company.

      That's not all bad here, though. We've formed a lot of official and quasi-official working groups within the combined organization that are as small as possible - the objective being to try whenever feasible to keep decisions from happening in a vacuum and to preserve the personal aspect of working together as much as one can. Has it been perfect? Of course not. But it hasn't been too bad either, thankfully.

      In the end, people need to be aware that they are ultimately responsible for their own fates. Raj can go work elsewhere, or go to another part of the country, or learn a skill that will allow him to escape the permatemping world. Or he can settle for what he has now. Some of his co-workers, sadly, will never do better - perhaps a few of them are handling the most they are capable of. As another poster to this thread said when quoting Judge Smails (the reference was from Caddyshack, BTW), "The world needs ditch-diggers, too". But most can eventually go as far as their skills will take them, provided they make sure that the skills they have are always needed enough to ensure relatively high-paying work.

      Being a human and a capitalist aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. But the bigger the organization, the tougher it is. People also get torn between their connections to others and their own fates - it's tough for the manager of a temporary workforce to form any lasting attachment to their workers when your own job may depend on being able to dicipline and/or terminate workers on the instructions of the people your own job depends on.

      If you're the person in those shoes, and you feel uncomfortable with it, then I'd definitely say you're human.
  • NO LOGO (Score:4, Informative)

    by why-is-it ( 318134 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:22AM (#2881586) Homepage Journal
    The tactics described in this article here are very similar to the ones the large brands use on contract workers in the export zones in SE Asia. Naomi Klein describes it at length in her book NO LOGO [].

    Strange that these same management techniques which work so well on the poor and uneducated overseas are now being used domestically.
    • Re:NO LOGO (Score:2, Informative)

      Strange that these same management techniques which work so well on the poor and uneducated overseas are now being used domestically.

      Not strange at all. I read in the article that most of the poeple were immigrants, including the author. And these policies have been present in the US for as long as factories have been. Check the history of Labor circa the late 19th century some time. It'll turn your stomach.

    • It's cheaper and less messy than hiring the
      Pinkertons to shoot the uppity workers.
  • The alternative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slow_flight ( 518010 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:39AM (#2881670)
    Ok, so it looks like the consensus here is that these poor folks are being used and abused, and Big Business just doesn't care.

    What's the alternative? Pay them $20 and hour and let them come and go as they please, or stop the line whenever they want to chat about their weekend? How willing are you to pay $500 for a printer that currently costs $125?

    If this story was about HP automating the box line and putting some number of temp workers out on the street, or moving the work to Mexico where the labor costs are even lower, would that be better?

    Temp work exists for a reason. I have done temp work myself. My view of it was work I could get at the drop of a hat, and quit the same way. If you need to work for 3 weeks, are you going to take a job somewhere knowing full well you're only going to be there 3 weeks? Yes, there are perma-temps, and there are inarguably strong financial incentives on the part of the company to staff in that manner, but the cold, hard reality is that this is the kind of migrant labor these workers chose. Granted, they probably didn't have a whole lot of options to choose from, but it's not like some recruiter painted a rosy picture of temp-Nirvana to these people. They made a fully-informed decision to accept the work, and given the angst shown over being laid-off, seemed to appreciate that they had work at all.
    • Re:The alternative (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DohDamit ( 549317 )
      Ahhh...the false dilemma fallacy. How common you are here, among the spoiled brats who aren't nearly as intelligent as they are lucky.

      Well, let's see...alternatives. Pay them $10 an hour, and pay for benefits. Rough cost? Hmm, in a mediocre plan, roughly $400 a month. Translates into about $2.50 raise. Not exactly going to break the bank.

      Hmm. The despotic tactics could go. Treating people with respect costs less than you think.

      Oh hell, what do I know. I should bask in the glow eminating from luminaries such as yourself.
      • Re:The alternative (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 )
        400 bucks a month for how many workers?

        I know that at my old job, the health plan accounted for 53% of the budget in a organization of 540 people.

        With the narrow margins that companies like HP operate at, it could break the company.

        As for despotics tactics, what's despotic about not giving a temp benefits? I don't see full-time employment or health care listed in the Constitution, Magna Carta or the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
    • Re:The alternative (Score:2, Interesting)

      by why-is-it ( 318134 )
      What's the alternative?

      How about paying a reasonable wage - enough to pay the bills. It's not a binary choice - poverty level or CEO level wages you know.

      this is the kind of migrant labor these workers chose.

      Just like they "chose" to be poor. Ri-i-ight.

      Granted, they probably didn't have a whole lot of options to choose from

      Definitely an understatement. Let's see: poverty level wages, or starve. They definitely had a choice. Mind you, HP also had a choice: they could pay a living wage to their staff, or they could contract out the positions to a third party and minimize their costs, and give Carly a bigger bonus.

    • What's the alternative? Pay them $20 and hour and let them come and go as they please, or stop the line whenever they want to chat about their weekend? How willing are you to pay $500 for a printer that currently costs $125?

      I knew it was only a matter of time until this albatross argument arrived. You are flatly out to lunch.

      According to this article []Mrs.Fiorina made $69.4 Million Dollars last year, further, according to this blurb at [] in 2000 hp had 88,000 employees.

      So, 6,9400,000 / 88,000 == $788.63. Our kind friends in the article, working for HP's bottom line, "pull in around $1000" per month.

      For all the "wealth" created by HP, a single person, the CEO earns 75% of a month salary for EVERY EMPLOYEE* .

      What is it that Carly Fiorina does that affords her such phenomenal wealth and security? Why is she afforded the kind of kingly existence of comfort and un-imaginable security while those who MAKE THE WEALTH are forced to earn a pittance with zero security. Remember, it is not only the low wages that people have to contend with but the risk of being instantly unemployed without provocation.

      I cannot fully explain the rage I feel at this situation, it exists all around us (and the world) -- this is the reality of Capitalism -- left unchanged it is guaranteed to get worse.

      The world is in an uncomfortable place at the moment, out of control and heading in the absolutely wrong direction.. and most people of conscience recognize change is necessary. Sweeping, fundamental changes to the economic systems we employ.

      Without a democratic solution to economic problems, (economically) powerless people will eventually revolt. It is not a debate of *if* but when, history has proven this -- and we are destined to allow it to repeat. Sad, very very sad.

      Interesting Reading: The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. []

      So, explain now, what does paying equitable salary have to do with the choice you mentioned? It is simply a non-issue.

      *i recognize that temps are not included in the 88k number, and therefore would be a smaller portion of Mrs.Fiorina's salary... but it really has no bearing on the concept.

      Also, im not surprised at the complete lack of understanding of the reality of this situation displayed in this forum. People have been so overwhelmed by the rhetoric and dogma of Capitalism, Freedom and America that they are absolutely blind to the massive problems with the present system -- and our ability to build a better alternative for everyone.

  • by anomaly ( 15035 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:44AM (#2881705)
    Low wage jobs can be unpleasant. The managers there frequently have no training in how to work with people. Production oriented jobs like the one described in the article are often focused on keeping the line moving.

    And yet, these people choose to work there for $8 an hour. This is their choice. They also opt to live in one of the most expensive places in the world. This too is a choice.

    Before you pound on me for being heartless, it may be important to note that I have passed through that place, as well. I come from a poor family in an economically depressed area.

    I have worked as a laborer doing back-breaking work by the sweat of my brow. I have also worked in mall jobs that were production oriented. "No talking! You're here to work, not have fun!" I have worked in food service as a busboy and waiter for long hours and late nights.

    It was my experience in those places that motivated me to get my education. Without those jobs, I would not have chosen to finish school.

    People can go to school, even while working a low-wage job. I did it, my parents did it in their 40's, and YOU can do it, too.

    If it's too expensive where you live, MOVE to somewhere cheaper. Don't want to move? Be creative, find a way to make it work. Don't want to do that? Then accept the fact that you will work that kind of job for the rest of your days.

    The future is in your hands. Repeat after me: "If it's to be, it's up to me. If it's to be, it's up to me. If it's to be....."
    • Umm. I hate to point it out, but you are the exception pal! Not everyone has your brains, spunk, and determination. The issue is the state of employment. It's not a choice except for those dynamic individuals who rise above the supression of the masses. Like you.

      So back off Superman.
      • by anomaly ( 15035 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:03AM (#2881801)
        With all due respect, I'm no superman, and you wouldn't have to be superman to do it either.

        I went to school with some brilliant people, but I also went to school with some folks who weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, either.

        For example, my senior year I was in an all-out run for head of one class against a man who was a laid-off coal miner.

        Nice guy, but on his best day, he had an average IQ. On his BEST day. One thing this guy had was a work ethic. He put in more hours than could be counted to make up for his lack of mental capacity, and it paid off in spades! This guy was the top of his classes because of the sweat equity.

        If Carl could succeed in school, anyone could. He was a hard worker with a family. Certainly he and his family made huge sacrifices to get him through college, but that was his choice, too.

        I've heard that Henry Ford said something to the effect of "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

        Let's inspire people to achieve rather than focus on limitations. Let's help people choose to make a better way for themselves rather than stay stuck in the mire.
      • BS.

        Anyone that is willing to make a change and make his/herself able to do a job can and will.

        It doesn't take brains/spunk/determination to move somewhere with the same pay and lower cost of living. It doesn't take much to get a decent paying job.

        People seem to think they are entitled to something more than doing work. Manual labor is what makes industry work, just as you can't win a war without some grunts on the ground, you can't operate a company without some people filling boxes. When I was in College I would have killed for that job and 8 bucks an hour. Because, like I said in another post, I grew up doing farm work. I never thought I was entitled to anything.

        The man isn't keeping these people down, the people are keeping the people down.
      • Umm. I hate to point it out, but you are the exception pal!

        If he's the exception, then so am I and so are dozens of my classmates who are graduating this spring with electrical engineering degrees from Boise State University.

        Not everyone has your brains, spunk, and determination.

        It doesn't take brains. It does take spunk and determination. Maybe you have to get to the point where I got when I decided that I wasn't going to take low paying, go nowhere jobs for the rest of my life. College is one option, trade schools are another. Financial aid is there, and not just student loans, either. I'm evidence that it CAN be done.

        The issue is the state of employment. It's not a choice except for those dynamic individuals who rise above the supression of the masses.

        That's pure and utter bullshit. "Suppression of the masses"? What does that mean? That it's OK to just give up because a lot of other people have? Is it society's fault? Is the "man" keeping them down? Is the problem that somehow everyone is entitled to a high paying job, that somehow they have the "right" to make a lot of money?

        Nobody has that right. But look, I've managed to finish four years of college, three and a half years of it working at a job that paid $9.00 an hour and no benefits. Was it hard work? Damn right it was. Could anybody do it? YES. I'm not special. All it takes is the realization that a handful of years of very hard work is going to pay off with a better job and a better life.

        At my college I'm surrounded by people who are in the same position as me...and people who are working even harder than me because they have families to support as well. My fellow students are Hispanic, Causcasion, Asian and African American. Some of them are fortunate enough to be traditional students with parents to pay for their education, but most are not. For many of them, they will be the first in their families to have a college degree...and I suspect that the average age of my college's graduating class is around 28.

        So you see, I take exception to your comments because I know from personal experience that they are wrong. Anyone who says that they can't do it is really saying that it would just be too much work. And, yeah, it's a ton of work. But it pays off.


        • Well said. I also go to BSU, and I see a lot of people working much harder than I have to, and I am working full time and taking full time credits. yet, there are people doing what I am doing, plus support a family and kids, and maybe trying to pay for a house at the same time.

          so, i know i am working hard, but I know there are people working much harder than I - and that is what keeps me going. That, and the hope that one day I will leave the "ratrace" and graduate in a year or two.

          very well said. I hat people that say it can't be done - you are right in that they are just saying "it's too hard and I don't want to put forth the effort".

    • I agree (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 )
      I'm from South Dakota, in South Dakota right now a majority of jobs pay around 8 dollars an hour, in South Dakota the cost of living is about 1/6th that of Silicon Valley California. In South Dakota the unemployment rate is around 2%.

      The fellow in the article said "The events of this day alone are grounds to start a revolution."

      On what grounds? He's making 8 dollars an hour, doing grunt work. Sure his hands are getting cut up, where I grew up, the summer work was prying rocks out of dirt roads with 6 foot iron pry-bars, 8-15 miles from, town for 8 hours a day with no breaks. That really motivated me to stay in College.

      All these people that drive for 2 hours each way to work, they have locked themselves into what they get because they are either too foolish or too lazy to move. A work visa into the US doesn't mean you have to move to Texas, California or New York, there are thousands of places out there that need stable workers, that want people, of any nationality to move there.

      Turning the place Union won't help, temp workers are temp because they want to be.
    • Buddy, we've lived the same life. Same path through the shithole jobs, same type of jobs even.


      You had the hope that you could escape. So did I. That's why I went to school, that's why I'm doing well now. I know too many people who don't have that hope. I have no idea how I had it....but I did.

      There is an alternative to this situation. Oddly, it struck me when I was working one of these shit jobs. On one occasion, we had six people working a shift at the fastfood place. Five managers, and me. Man, we fucking flew. Work was easy, no one was stressed, and it actually didn't suck. Next shift, next day, thirteen people, one of em a manager. Nothing was going anywhere, chaos ruled, and life sucked. I know damn well the managers were earning about 50% more than the employees. The idea that I drew from this was as follows: open up a fastfood joint, hire 50% of the people, pay at management rates. Advertise this fact to the MANAGERS at the other shops. They could earn their pay and have LESS responsibility? I asked my managers then if they would jump. To the man(and woman) they all said yes.

      Respect for your employees empowers them, especially if they have nothing else going for them. Thus, I put the onus on the employer to show respect for the individual.

      Everyone has to work. Not everyone has to work for an asshole.
  • by adubey ( 82183 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @10:49AM (#2881736)
    On one hand, having a sucky job is not so good... on the other hand, as one of the temps points out, you can't have better conditions without unions. One of the sad facts of life is there is a positive correlation between union membership and higher unemployment.

    Unfortunately, there's a trade-off between good working conditions and having work at all. In Europe, the population chose to have better working conditions, by voting for left-of-center governments. In the US, the population chose to decrease the power of unions and have more jobs, by continually voting for right-of-center governments.
    • Do you believe government statistics? I'm not at all sure that our (the US) unemployment rate is lower than theirs (the EU). Which may imply that we've sacrificed good working conditions for no gain.

      OTOH, it's true that we probably have more very rich people. So if you are one of them, then I guess that it was a gain.

      The real benefit of the US choice would be that there was less governmental control over individual actions. Unfortunately, this gain too has been sacrificed. If was a casualty of the "drug war", and "anti-terrorism".

      So what's the gain to me for the sacrifice? I'm not one of the really rich people. I was willing to work the extra time as a part of the cost of liberty. But that is being rapidly discarded, and neither party seems better than the other... well, perhaps the Republicans are a bit worse. They tend to be more viscious about it, where the Demms coat everything in sugar.
  • by twocents ( 310492 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:16AM (#2881889)
    There is one benefit to working temp jobs that I would suggest anyone take full advantage of - read the internal postings.

    I temped in Chicago for one year during the tech boom period, and had no trouble interviewing for system support and programming work, and eventually landed one. The cool thing about this method was that I would just jot the info down while in the break room and call the next day.

    While employers are looking for education / experience, they are also very well aware that some guru with ten years of background might not contribute that much more than "the temp fellow that has a decent resume, everyone seems to like, and seems to know how to brew coffee instead of leaving it for the next person to do." Or at least that is the angle I would take if I was not the guru. I just always thought of the temp work as rent payers and a good way to scope out companies I might like to work for.

    I wonder if temping at an HP corporate office would have yielded a different tale?
  • by buckrogers ( 136562 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @11:45AM (#2882087) Homepage
    when I first dropped out of college because I ran out of money to finish my degree.

    I was a temp worker, and was only given part time work so that they didn't have to pay me any benifits. I had to work 3 part time jobs and was also an officer in the Army National Guard in order to make just enough to support my family.

    A union worker decided that he would cuss me out for no reason and I told him to fuck off. He ran off and lied about the incident and got me fired, the little coward.

    After working for a year in shit jobs I finally got a break laying network cabling and doing help desk and support and I never looked back. I am currently a self taught programmer and make a great salary.

    But even then I got laid off my Disney after working for them for just a few months, when they began downsizing

    I lost my job while the executives got paid about $50,000,000 in bonuses and stock options. _My_ stock options. So even at a professional level you can be screwed over.

    Of course I got 2 job offers in less than a week, during the height of the recession, so no big deal. But it was depressing to get laid off. And in my book being laid off without ever intending to hire you back is just fired.

    The most important thing to remember is that the fuedal system was _not_ slavery. Sure, the serf had responsibilites to the lord and had to work hard, but the lord also had responsibilities back to the serf. The lord had to provide for the workers like you would your prize animals. And the church kept a strict eye on the behavior of the lords to ensure that they maintained law and order in the area.

    The lord just couldn't arbitrarily throw someone off the land, because there was no replacement workers, even a lazy drunken lout was better than no lout at all. A lord that kept abusing his people would have to answer to the church and might even be excomunicated and exiled himself.

    When capitalism replaced fuedalism the CEO became the fuedal lord, but the CEO no longer has any responsiblity to the workers and has to answer to nobody for their treatment of the workers. The unions formed in response to long hours of labor with little pay and the constant threat of being fired. The same reason that these people in the story have to face everyday.

    I used to be against unions, because I had been brainwashed by the propaganda that unions were causing the US to be less competitive. But then I looked into the matter and found out that union shops are every bit as competitive as non union shops and that dollar for dollar they produce as many goods as non union shops. Mainly because in union shops you had long periods of employment that allow people to get good at their jobs.

    The reason that companies go with lower paid inexperienced workers is because even though it is more expensive in the long run for the company, it allows the executives to make a lot more money for themselves individually, in the short run.

    Ford paid his workers enough money to buy a model-T. I doubt that most of the workers in these third world countries could buy a pair of sneakers or jeans at full price. I doubt that the workers at the company in the story could have afforded to buy one of the printers that they were packing up. Sad really.

    If we don't support the right for everyone to have a living wage that lets people get ahead, who will buy the things that we are making in the future. and if noone buys the things that we are making, how long do you expect to keep your job?

    I think that it is time for high tech workers to form a union and protect our rights. We should also make sure that the workers in foreign subsidiaries of the companies that we work for get paid the same as we do. The the US will have someone to sell our stuff to overseas and we can reduce our huge foreign debt that we have every year.
  • Hi,
    I'm 34 years old. I've worked in the IT industry for some time. I've also been a /. reader for some years. If there is one consistent POV I've noticed with /. posters is that they are very uninformed as to their rights as a worker.
    /. posters believe people have a choice, you don't like working there, go elsewhere. Where I ask? All corporations work under the same rules of employment, the lowest end I can assure you. Those very very few companies that do give their employees human consideration will be bought by Micro$oft soon.

    /. posters think the standard IT contract is perfectly natural. Well, a contract that gives you bad benefits, no pension, no security, seniority, etc. is not a good contract. Just because you're making 6 thousand more than your friends are doesn't mean you'll have a job tomorrow.

    /. posters believe that roaming from company to company is a normal and good career move. This drives me crazy... can you people not do the math?

    /. posters should consider the big picture. Workers need to come together to assure a healthy industry and future for the technology. You think Bill Gates will do that? Larry? Steve? No, they won't. Industry is created by the workers, the engineers, the scientists, not the bean counters and marketing sharks.

    /. posters seem to have not noticed that all thier IT jobs generally originate with departments or companies that are, in effect, a chunk of some greater hydra like corporation. To make thier quarter earning fit, they would fire you and burn down the building you work in. It's called downsizing.

    "Fuck the doomed". R. Nixen

  • First of all, although it will do you no good, blame the Government for all of the wonderful deregulation in the workplace.

    It will do you no good, because "the will of the masses" couldn't get John McCain in the White House, well after his candidacy yielded three times the support of Bush or Gore in the primaries. Think how different our country would be for the working man with a reforming, respectful, ex-POW in the big chair. All of that campaign money is now going to screw you in this "financial crisis." By the way, financial crisis means "we will not cut into our profits one dime, so we will CUT YOU." Expect fun legislation that will take decades to undue in the next year.

    Second, blame Manpower. After all, they're only the largest employer in the US. They treat peole like cattle, hold your checks for weeks so that you feel forced to stay at your crappy temp job... and sometimes never pay off. I should know, my sister got screwed by them. So this poor person that lost a weeks pay, well, they aren't alone... pray it wasn't two.

    They keep the money coming late so you can never be ahead of anything, and be able to leave your job to pursue a better one. This is no different than the coal towns of West Virginia in the late 1800s, where they were far away from everyone, so the company charged more than they got paid, and they got more and more in debt until their children worked the mines.

    Manpower is no different. After all, they are America's largest employer (of late, no benefit, no security funds to people who can't afford an education)! JOIN THE MANPOWER TEAM TODAY!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It speaks well of those who argue for higher wages, better working conditions, and the like for the lowest-paid workers. But, at the same time, it's important to remember that we're the ones who create and support these structures. After all, we kicked off a race to the profitability bottom by insisting on the cheapest possible prices for hardware and software: $60.00 inkjets, pirated software, e-commerce loss leaders, and the like. The players have had no choice but to cut expenses to the bone in order to keep prices sensitive to our demands.

    This isn't to say that companies aren't misallocating money -- Enron, anyone? -- but don't think that increasing assembly line workers' real wages won't impact the prices we pay.

    Now, the flip side: when companies reduce prices by reducing costs, they paradoxically make life easier on low-wage employees in some ways, because the cost of living is reduced as well. Unions are a way workers can game the system to their own advantage, increasing their own wages by making goods more expensive for other, usually non-union, laborers; to use a deliberately simple example, if auto workers can get higher wages while farm workers can't, then auto workers will get larger paychecks and pay less for food, thus getting improved real wages. At the same time, farm workers' real income (even if their money wages remain stable) drop because cars become more expensive to compensate the auto workers. It's essentially the prisoner's dilemma.

    I hate to say it, but I can't think of any easy way out of this problem, short of increasing government requirements when it comes to wages, benefits and working conditions for all American employers. But then, of course, many of those jobs would be moved overseas where such protections don't (and, given how onerous they are to developing nations, probably shouldn't) exist. But *that* would drive down product prices, releasing more free money into the American economy, creating new jobs ... and so on ....
    • I hate to say it, but I can't think of any easy way out of this problem

      Create employment law that protects the worker, the industry, and the community? Just a thought...

      Business practices will always aim for the bottom line in a capitalist economy. In the past, we had created law to protect workers after we learned that companies will exploit people even onto death. What has happened to those laws in the past 20 years? Things changed...

      "Greed is all right, by the way . . . I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." Ivan F. Boesky, U.S. financier. Commencement Address, 18 May 1986, School of Business Administration, University of California, Berkeley. Boesky's words were later picked up in Oliver Stone's film, Wall Street (1987), spoken by Gordon Gecko. Boesky himself was later convicted of conspiring to file false documents with the federal government, involving insider trading violations, and agreed to pay $100 million in fines and illicit profits.
  • by syphax ( 189065 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:35PM (#2882438) Journal
    There's a variable not much discussed here- good vs. bad management.

    For my work, I've spent time observing warehouses for a number of different companies. The nature of the work varied little across the facilities that I've seen, but the cultures varied dramatically- workers in some facilities hated life, and in others were fulfilled and happy (of course, I am dramatically simplifying here).

    The difference? Whether management viewed and treated their employees like robots, or like experts who knew the job better than they (the management) did. In the latter case, management could and would call on floor workers to help improve business processes, making the company more efficient- and guess what, one benefit of increased efficiency is that you can pay a higher wage (and will, because you want to retain your trained workers).

    I realize that this sounds like a fairy tale, but I have seen it and it's real. It's the exception rather than the rule b/c it's hard to manage with this philosophy, and requires something that few managers have- humility.

    For an example of what I'm talking about, read about Paul O'Neill's days at Alcoa (Jan 13th article in the NY Times Magazine- apparently not free online). For the theory, read about W. Edwards Deming, or the book Lean Thinking.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @12:47PM (#2882517)
    i can't believe someone in Silicon Valley makes an hourly wage. we should split up all wages equally. except for open source programmers, and maybe any other tech workers who are "cool". they should make more. much more.
  • Why is this story new and interesting just because it takes place at an HP plant?

    Its unskilled labor. You get what the state mandates you should get because there are one thousand people who would take that job for a nickel an hour less if the state permitted it.

    If you don't like it, get a skill. This is not news.

  • I'm Floored... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MajesticFiles ( 414176 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @03:02PM (#2883298)
    I've been a Recruiter/Staffer in the industry for 5 years now, and I am shocked at both the article and the responses to it. I'm shocked at the article because someone actually had the huevos to write it (and did a great job of it!) and shocked at the responses because of their (mostly) lack of blind Temp agency bashing.

    IMHO, there is always a time to say "enough". It's just different for everyone, and they must have the balls to do it.

    For Temp agencies, they must be able to turn away that business, and that money, when their temps are being treated badly. This is a very hard thing to do when your Parent company is demanding sales numbers be met.

    For the workers, they must be able to sacrifice the easy job (as in easy to get and quit) and put long days and nights into education to qualify for higher paying and permanent work. This is also hard, when you can't feed your kids.

    Finally, the Company must be able to lower profits and raise expenses by hiring high quality, permanent employees at or above market rate. Again...not easy to do, especially when profit are low.

    Every agency, company and worker has done this at some time in my career. My agency has walked from business and paid for it, sometimes for years. But we did it knowing that we would come out ahead in the end (there is a reason my agency is NOT the one in this article) but in the meantime, things are harder, not easier.

    Until one of the three parties in this plant says will be an embarrasment for all.
  • Pride and Bitterness (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamesmartinluther ( 267743 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2002 @03:09PM (#2883335) Homepage
    "But I quickly learn that the engine of the new economy is fueled by methods and labor practices more commonly associated with the old industrial era.

    I saw this writer in a television documentary on public television a few months ago. He struck me as bitter about the success of others and overly prideful of his own mechanical labor.

    Simply put, those closer to the implementation of the thoughts of others are paid less.

    Raj Jayadev's paid contribution to the company is to mechanically assembles designs. The engineers are paid more than he is for the designs and assembly instructions. The designers of the business process are paid even more. None of these groups should be prideful of their own contribution, and none should covet the pay nor power that others have.

    He is lower on the decision chain and he should not be so bitter about that. While his strategy of organized complaining and "unionizing" may help a group of workers with pay and conditions, I would argue that self improvement (and group improvement) help a lot more.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.