25 February 2008


The cry goes up at 4:00 a.m.: "Airways! Twenty people for Airways!"

There are 300 homeless people at the Drop this morning. It's 20 degrees outside, and nobody gets turned away when it's that cold, even if it means violating the fire marshall's 270 person limit for a few hours.

Nobody is required to vacate until 7:00 a.m., but the call for labor at Airways wakes up many weary souls who need all the sleep they can get. Airways has a need for labor this morning. The Drop is a good place to find it.

Ray spent a few shifts at Airways. They had him sorting packages along with several other people recruited --- on a per diem basis only --- at the Drop Inn Shelter in Over-The-Rhine. The recruiter told them they could "work today, get paid today." The recruiter also waited until Ray and the others were outside, standing near the van, to inform them that the van ride to Airways Distribution Center at the airport was not free.

"It'll cost four dollars," he explained, "but don't worry, you don't have to pay me now. It gets deducted ffrom your wages, which you receive at the end of shift."

There was grumbling and headshaking, but everybody piled into the van, including Ray.

It was a sleepy ride across the Brent Spence bridge into Kentucky. Except for a few long haul truckers, the interstate was largely empty. When they arrived at Airways Distribution, Ray jostled the guy next to him to wake up.

There was more that the recruiter hadn't mentioned. For example, they were all required to wear steel toed safety shoes or boots. Naturally, none of the Drop Inn recruits owned such footwear. The recruiter, who never bothered to introduce himself, never told anybody his name, led them into a locker room. Several heavy plastic boxes full of boots awaited them.

"Find your size and put them on. They hav e all been sanitzed for your protection. You will be charge a small fee of $3.00 for use of the shoes. You must return the shoes before you leave the building. You will take your own shoes and place them near your work area in plain sight, but do not wear them until the end of your shift.

The work turns out to involve grabbing parcels off carts, reading a letter and color coded sticker, and placing the parcel on a conveyer that is marked with the same number and color. Ray and his Drop Inn colleagues have been told that they will work an 8 hour shift, then will be paid at the end of shift, minus the cost of the van ride and the steel toed boots.

Except, it's not really eight hours. When the volume of parcels slows down, the floor supervisor tells some or all of the temps to "sign out." This means the temps have to go to a break room, and wait. They are permitted to smoke, drink coffee, even take a nap. But during the sign out, they are not getting paid. Ray found that the sign outs last as long as the floor super wants them to.

With three sign outs, by the end of his "shift" Ray has been at Airways for 8 hours, but he has only worked --- and only been paid for --- a total of 4.2 hours. At $7.50 per hour, Ray had reckoned earning $60.00 cash. But after all the sign out time, Ray's wages came to $31.50. Of course, his van transport ($4.00) and boot rental ($3.00) were deducted, which left him with 24.50.

One of the recruits asked morosely about taxes.

"That's between you and the IRS," the supervisor explained. "There are blank federal and state 1099 forms for you in the van, courtesy of Lightning Labor Services. The Lightning Labor guy is warming the van up, and he'll be departing in ten minutes."

During the ride back somebody asked the recruiter/driver about Lightning Labor Services. They were a temporary service contracting with Airways, he said. No, Airways is not employing you. You are temporary labor supplied via Lightning. Any questions, comments or other issues can be addressed by calling the 800 number printed on the instruction packet that comes with your 1099.

By the time Ray was returned to the Ohio side of the river, it was almost 3:00 p.m. He didn't bother with the tax form. Nor did he complain to the 800 number. He worked the following day, rising at 4:00 a.m. once again. The floor supervisor told Ray that he kept a good pace, and offered Ray the opportunity to stay another 4 hours. Not "work" another 4 hours; "stay" another 4.

Ray accepted, only to find that he was told to sign out for most of the 4 hours. A couple of full time employees handled the late afternoon parcels. Ray sat in the break room, eating junk food from the vending machine. During this, his second day temping at Airways, Ray was allowed to work on the clock 5.5 hours out of the 12 hours he was there.

"I saw a guy arguing with the supervisor about the sign outs," Ray recalled. "He said it violated Labor Department regs, that they couldn't require people to sit around not being paid.

"The supervisor says, 'You're right, we can't make you. So if you don't want to do a sign out, you're welcome to go home. But you are signed out as of right now.' "

After that second quasi-shift, Ray never returned to Airways. Eventually he found housing at Tender Mercies.

But homeless people are recruited at the Drop Inn Shelter, and other gathering places for the homeless, for per diem labor every day and every night. Often, they never actually see anyone from the temp service that uses them. And they are being used: Nobody hires them, they are not employed.

These days, companies find employees can be too expensive. Labor laws have to be observed, and if an employee does good work, raises have to be given. Some employees expect benefits like health coverage. It is more expeditious to contract work to a temp service. Labor can be outsourced. Employment cannot. And the homeless are the easiest people to exploit with such a business practice.

Someday, the entire hourly wage sector of the U.S. economy might become a vast temp service. Imagine how much simpler everyone's lives would be, and how simple business management would become. And how much wider the abyss between those who have, and those who have not.


djc said...
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djc said...

revise for QCPR

All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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