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Friday, September 11, 2009

A Jab at Work REVIEW: "Now Hiring: Contract Workers?..."

"Now Hiring: Contract Workers?..." By Prashant Gopal

Nice Article.

As anyone who has read this blog is aware, I’m not a big fan of the whole, "contract employee" designation/status. As explained--I'm not sure how many posts ago--I once had a bad experience as a contract employee. Long story short, since there was no actual written contract... my employer paid everyone when he felt like it; he allegedly discriminated against some, while allegedly improperly fraternizing with others; and because of his leveraged position as the man with the cash, he insisted that we be “on call“, and travel to dangerous places.

Regarding Gopal's article in Business Week, unlike most things you'll find on my blog... it was neutral and balanced. He explains that during the height of the recession panic employers slashed too many permanent employees, and presently are choosing to replace them with contract/temporary workers.

Gopal uses "contract" and "temporary" interchangeably, which is a bit imprecise. In my experience, legitimate "contract work" should include a legally-binding written agreement, if the parties don't want to miscommunicate, scam/get scammed, and/or wind up in court. For IRS' purposes, contract work is considered independent work, for which you must file a Schedule C, and pay taxes quarterly... if you're not exempt. Whereas temp work typically is employment via an agency, which automatically drafts employment agreements as part of it's many legally-required duties to its employees. However, unless you work with an agency long enough to join their union, and therefore get benefits, they are much less obligated to you than is a permanent employer. Also, if you earn enough $$ at a temp agency, then you file a standard return at the end of the year. (None of the aforementioned is intended to construe legal or tax advice.) The point is that temporary employment and contract employment are usually different creatures.

Personally... I think that a lot of employers knew when they were cutting jobs that they were disposing of more employees than was necessary. After all, with all of the "Linkedin" folks pulling all of their buddies into jobs, there were bound to be some overpaid duds who employers were itching to expel. Now, they can hire truly qualified people, and avoid all of the expenses associated with health care, and perks (which apparently friends deserve, but qualified strangers don't).

Gopal acknowledges those who say that contract employees, "have no rights". Good for Gopal. Tell it like it is, because the full story that employers are hiring more contractors may not necessarily have a happy, "fairy tale" ending.

By the way, temping is no Alice and Wonderland story either. Although, admittedly it can sometimes feel like you're falling down a hole, into a different universe, where everything is warped and constantly changing; and, people are speaking cryptically, in gibberish. Hey! Maybe they're not so different. I guess it just depends on how the job ends. Generally speaking though, temping = scary world, where things may not be what they seem. (All right, I shamelessly set you up for that one.)

Truly, though, temp agencies sometimes make excessively good deals for themselves at the expense of their temps. I worked at an agency where I later learned they were making half of the total amount of my contract. Finders' fees, and agents' fees are not supposed to be more than 15%.

At another temp job, my agency "removed me" from a site at the request of one of their client's manager’s, who claimed that I had been insubordinate because she had asked me to do something, and I asked her if it was legal. My agency later explained that the agency never would have asked a temp worker to engage in the activity, though the agency did have FT/permanent employees do these things. "Not cool Zeus." (O'Brian, Conan... (not the Barbarian.... (Have you noticed that a lot of my references are from television? Frightening huh?))) Anyway, the agency compared our stories, found them to be identical, but had a contractual obligation to act in accordance with the wishes of the manager (who by the way, was only on-site twice, since she really headed a different location. Further, she was the personality antithesis of all of that site’s actual managers, who protested that what was happening was wrong; and, they voluntarily offered references.) The agency also informed me that I had done nothing wrong, and then proceeded to offer me low-paying assignments in Siberian locales. The temp employer has little if any incentive to ally with the temp employee against the client, who is paying the bills. They can make a great tag-team with a one-two punch. Furthermore, since the agency, not the client is the temp’s employer, the temp has little recourse for mistreatment by the client. In general, only unionized employees have actionable rights.

Ok., I think we have time for one more Jab at contract/temp work: So, I'm working at this place for a couple of months, and almost everything is going swimmingly (except for the fact that they... Darn it. Now that I think of it, there was so much crap going on there that I think we might not have time for it all (no offence to those of you Midwesterners who think that "crap" is a curse word). I'll put it all in a list instead of a paragraph. [Actually, it turned into a list of paragraphs, aka, a ½ page. But, you knew that was going to happen.]

1) So, I'm broke; I commute from another state; as a temp awaiting my 1st pay check, which will not arrive for 3 weeks. On the 1st day sans warning, I am asked to travel across town and back, to help with an exhibit at a trade show. With only car fare to get to and from work, I walk over 70 city blocks to get to the convention center, and back to the work site. Subsequently, I am asked, as are others, to purchase supplies for the firm, and then, "expense it". Worse still, I am put in charge of liaising between employees (who angrily demand reimbursement for their expenses) and the bookkeeper/controller.

2) Later, (and pay attention to this one, because it happens a lot). Since the person who had preceded me in the position had quit abruptly, and since therefore, there was no one to train me, and my bosses didn't know what my predecessor did, except that she was the, "coordinator", there came a time when I was asked, "Could you write a summary of what you do?" I smiled cordially and said, "Sure. No problem." (Even though at the time I was thinking, “Is that some sort of slight? It was as if he was saying, "So… what is it that you do around here anyway?” So, in my desperation to detail the extent to which I facilitated the work of all of the departments, I typed a comprehensive outline, which they promptly used to fill the permanent slot (with Aphrodite, or Helen of Troy or somebody). Unfettered, I agreed to stay to train her. She and I became friends; and she felt so badly about the obvious lecherousness of the replacement selection that she plugged her boyfriend into the slot, and decided to look for work elsewhere.

3) Ok there is no three. That's all of my fire, for that particular temp job. However, I admit, I really liked it there.

As usual, that was a really long tangent! No worries. I've been keeping track. The point is contractor/temp candidates be ware these be treacherous waters! But now a days permanent employment isn't exactly solid ground.


Blogger_babe32 said...

I agree with that employers don't know who they are cutting when they cut jobs. I would look at delivery of services and client contact. But they just look at dollars (and no sense!)

Great blog!

AJAB said...

Thanks Bb!

(Sorry, I missed this comment earlier.)


A Jab At Work Poetry (Poetry about Work)

“Work” by AJA-B, 08/30/09

The life I live is full of Joy,
But fool of sadness have I been,
If rumblings uttered prove us coy,
Then, truth be told both where, and when,
Was once a pair that teetered then,
O’er brinks or hills,
That they could scarce,
Find liquid, bars of salt, but bills,
And toil, though notice paid none dare’st,
To sweat, and pack, and tape, and wrap,
To call, and quest, rebuffed for cost,
To drive five states, and back, for gas
Traverse, from here to there to drink,
While aching back, and sweat-soaked shirt,
Proved naught the laborers’ worth, but stink,
And why should hecklers, wreckers blurt,
And hurl insults until they hurt,
While hypocrites sit conditioned in,
Till out a pair sent all they’d earned,
To others seeking extra, win,
‘gainst those that taught themselves, and learned,
Volumes, nearly choked and burned,
As plumes of hate, and stacks of smoke,
Sparked flames, which brinksmanship, did stoke,
Hellacious fires that GOD awoke,
& Smote the devils’ flames whose’ fire,
Could not the heights of clouds aspire,
& Up the pair in now a shell,
found seeds to plant that vines did swell,
Fat, filling, fruit and tasty cheer,
Revealing teeth, “from ear to ear,”
Now brimming, happily forgiving, hope,
Refilling cranial stores to find,
Surviving, counts for little more than sustaining life, and wasting time.

Digressing now though more is there,
I advise you work, but ne’er care,
Hard work, and success are not the same,
But without the first you’ll reap the blame,
For being weak, and seeming lame,
To end I wish you all the best,
Catharsis exhausts, I needs must rest,
Good luck, “You’re hired” I hope you’ll find,
To ease your cares, and soothe your mind.

© 2009 AJA-B

A Jab at Work Survey

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