Is your future a temp future?

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Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Entering the workforce post-2020 likely presents college graduates with a peculiar dilemma. On one hand, they are entering a workforce where if the work can be done from home, it likely will be. On the other hand, new graduates are facing a fraught workplace, in the face of a pandemic that has killed millions.

The economic future seems shaky; nonetheless, rent, student loans and Disney+ subscriptions are all due, and *insert tech giant’s name here* wants to hire fresh-faced graduates with perks galore! There’s just one small caveat: They are likely to be hired as a temporary, vendor or contractor worker (TVC). 

In the 1980s, our ancestors didn’t get “jobs,” they got “gigs.” The last decade has rejuvenated this term, so much that it’s now one of the labor movement’s biggest concerns. You may have read about battles over basic rights at work (such as Prop. 22 which was recently found unconstitutional). This grim reality isn’t just for DoorDash or Lyft employees. TVC’s at companies such as Google face many of the same issues, and by Google hiring temp workers, it’s fair to assume they’re saving money nonetheless by not hiring as many full-time employees. In fact, big tech companies such as Google have more temps than full-time workers.

TVCs often work side-by-side with their full-time employees doing the same exact work for less money, more oversight, and fewer perks such as being required to pay to ride the shuttle. At Worksafe, we lead and support worker campaigns for strong health and safety laws, and effective remedies for people who are injured on the job or suffer work-related illnesses. And temporary workers are highly susceptible to workplace injury. In fact, a recent study found temporary workers are 36% to 72% more likely to be injured in the workplace than full-time employees. 

As a graduate from a top-ranked UC, I found myself “temping” with other recent UC and Stanford graduates. We often chatted about how the lack of security in our TVC roles caused us to feel indebted for the chance to work at the prominent tech companies in Silicon Valley.

This often caused me to look the other way when my rights as a worker were violated. Even with a UC degree, a paralegal certificate and five years under my belt in the legal field (employment law at that), I feared “rocking the boat” and losing my job and my income. 

In fact, the job insecurity in being an indefinite temp kept me silent when I got hurt working at a Peninsula-based tech company. One of the elevators had been broken for months, a known hazard. It was often misaligned with the floor; when it did properly align it would shift without notice. 

One afternoon, with my red badge and free salad, the elevator dropped as I stepped on board — and I fell. I hobbled off the elevator wiping my eyes, crying with pain and embarrassment. I pleaded with my team lead to just put in a service request to clean up my spill. She told me she’d need to file a worker’s compensation report. I begged her not to because I didn’t want to start any trouble. 

She hesitated, but as a fellow red badge and African American woman from the Bay Area, she too knew that no matter how much I wasn’t at fault, rocking the boat as a temp never comes out well for you.

I remember feeling so bad for my fellow janitorial TVC staff that had to clean up my mess.

To be clear, I’m still glad my manager didn’t report my fall. She understood where I was coming from and did me a solid that could have cost her her job. I’m not even mad at the tech company I worked at. It was the insecurity of being a red badge that caused me to keep silent. Every other TVC I spoke to that day breathed a sigh of relief when I told them I didn’t tell my full-time equivalent manager. They knew what was likely to happen if I did. 

Now, as I put away my small violin, I know that freshly minted graduates will likely not be thinking much about workplace injuries as they embark on their new careers, but they should! However, an area of importance to all workers is pay. A New York Times article just exposed a huge abuse of the system by Google, which had illegally kept tens of millions of dollars from temps who should have been regular employees. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Google is doing it, it likely isn’t the only one.

Students should think hard about the narrative of “flexibility” and “autonomy” sold by tech and gig companies, and what it means for their rights and those of their fellow workers. 

AnaStacia is a staff attorney at Worksafe in Oakland, California. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.