An Iowa Temp Worker Bill of Rights?

Fairness for Temp WorkersIn a strip mall in Cedar Rapids, a temp agency opens at 6 a.m., ready to place workers in temporary jobs. A registered applicant can enter the waiting room, sign in on a clipboard at the counter, and wait for placement in a job in construction, hospitality or warehouse work— often the same day. There is no talk about careers or perquisites, and some days a person gets placed, others not. Every time I entered, someone was waiting for a placement— there seemed to be no shortage of labor. In a society where people need paying work, this is one place they find it.

Managing the bottom line for a large or small company, the cost of human resources stands out as a high percentage of expense. Owners and executives seek to manage these expenses— their argument is they have to to remain viable in the marketplace. They will do what is legal and necessary to optimize the dollars spent on people. One of the ways they do this is to transfer the risk and expense of having employees to other entities, like the companies that employ temp workers.

We hear a lot about outsourcing and off-shoring, but until lately little attention has been paid to temp workers: that group of low-paid people that works in our community, doing office work, construction, hospitality, light manufacturing, property maintenance and more. Large corporations have become masters of outsourcing, and when we ask where have all the jobs gone, some of them went back into the community in the form of subcontractors that use temp workers, and take expense off the bottom line.

Mike Grabell wrote an article in ProPublica titled, “The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed” which is worth reading. He wrote, “the people […] are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies– Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers.”

Massachusetts passed a temporary workers right to know law that requires temporary staffing agencies to provide basic information about jobs offered to temporary workers. Essentially, it is a temp worker bill of rights.

Perhaps Iowa should consider a similar law, even if groups like the American Staffing Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council would be expected to fight it.

On the other hand, Iowa is a state where organized labor has struggled to pass any initiative in the legislature, notably the recently failed campaigns for fair share and choice of doctor. This when Democrats, the party that received substantial political contributions from organized labor, controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Temp workers are here to stay in Iowa. The protections they have are the bare minimum provided by the law. Companies push the envelope of the law to keep their bottom line expense of workers very low. For progressives, helping protect temp workers in Iowa should be on our short list of priorities. The situation lies mostly below the radar and is calling for justice.

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5 Responses to An Iowa Temp Worker Bill of Rights?

  1. Cyd Hall says:

    This is RICH!!! Perhaps Paul should research other Iowa staffing firms before thinking all staffing firms operate in the same fashion. I have worked for an Iowa staffing firm for 15 years and we treat our employees with respect, match employee’s skills/knowledge with the requirements of the job and ALWAYS provide a clear detailed description of what the job is prior to placing them at a client. While I am not opposed to any workers right to know law, I would like it to be clear that not staffing firms just place people arbitrarily out at clients with no care or concern for the temporary employee. Not all businesses ONLY care about the “bottom line”.


    • Paul Deaton says:


      Thanks for reading Blog for Iowa: The Online Information Source for Iowa’s Progressive Community. During my 25-year career in the transportation and logistics business, I researched scores of staffing companies, and am well familiar with both good and bad ones, although not yours in northwest Iowa. I will take you at your word about it. Any large, multi-state temp agency does all the things you mention. When using them, I have been satisfied with only a few exceptions over the years.

      Having personally interviewed thousands of prospective employees, I can tell you that controlling human resource expense and its relationship to the bottom line is not about whether a company treats employees well. Well managed companies realize they have to treat employees well to best manage human relations costs. This also applies to people engaged under contract with outside entities, including staffing firms such as yours. As you may know, there is a real cost of filling positions when people leave the organization, although that is mitigated somewhat with use of temp agencies.

      As I mentioned in the post it seems doubtful that Iowa will support a temp workers right to know law, but it is a fair question to ask. I anticipated reactions like yours, that people in the industry would oppose a temp worker right to know law. The American Staffing Agency was very active in fighting the Massachusetts law.

      In closing, I would say that the reality of small and large companies off-loading their employees to subcontractors that include temp agencies is here to stay in Iowa. There have been cases of wage theft, and mistreatment, and in my experience, I have seen a lot of mismatches between talent and jobs. I hope your company is different in that regard. If all staffing companies are as you say yours is, there will be no need for a law. I know from experience they aren’t.

      Regards, Paul Deaton, Editor


  2. Cyd Hall says:

    I would only add….as I clearly stated in my last post, I am not opposed to a right to know law and I agree not all firms operate as the one I work for does. I was simply pointing out not all staffing firms are “evil”.
    You also mentioned in your first post about the failed campaign for the choice of doctor. I wish that many supporters of that legislation could see how the employee’s choice of doctor is rarely the best for treating a worker’s compensation injury. I provide the best medical care available to our injured workers. These are doctors that are well versed in caring for occupational injuries, who understand that keeping an employee working during their healing period is best and are cautious with prescribing narcotic medications. Working in multiple states and not having the right to direct medical care in NE and SD, I have seen employees doctored by shady chiropractors and general practitioners who do not understand occupational medicine. These employees have been taken off work entirely for extended periods of time regardless if they were truly able to do some form of modified work or not. Prescribed narcotics for simple injuries or allowed to take narcotics for months. Where does this leave us… employees who are not motivated to work and potential substance abuse issues. As an employer, don’t you feel that since I have experience with prior injuries that I would have a vested interest to know where the best place to send an employee? The goal is to get them healed as quickly as they can and get back to work, right?


    • Paul Deaton says:


      Thanks for your comment.

      As far as the choice of doctor legislation goes, it failed and in my opinion, won’t be back anytime soon in Iowa, so there is not much to talk about now, except what I mentioned in the original post.

      In my experience there is a wide variation in the approaches to medicine among various types of practitioners. Even today, osteopaths and chiropractors, which are widely accepted among health care practitioners, suffer from discrimination. As an employer, I found there were pros and cons regarding control of which doctor a patient sees, and the companies I worked for had different approaches. No one solution fits every patient, every injury, every illness or every business.

      Thanks again for reading.

      Regards, Paul


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