Disposable Work

Year’s ago, I saw a comic that highlighted the plight of the temporary employee.

Series of images highlighting how we treat employees as a society.
Series of images highlighting how we treat employees as a society.

The original image I saw simply had a man sitting awkwardly in a trash can, as if he’d just been thrown away.

When I began temping, that was my only job.  I felt great joy in finally doing something that required a little more thought and skill.  But, I felt very disheartened by being used for such short assignments.  Thank the Lord, I was always able to pay rent – but not without help from my mother.  Finally, after temping for over a year, I was able to secure a full time placement.

Several years have gone by since that initial stint being a form of a ‘contract employee’ and my life has changed as has my outlook.  Knowing that I can be quite sensitive, I remind myself of the firm end dates, understand that jobs can change at any moments notice, and I am thankful if any employment date is extended or I get called back.

Regardless, temporary work doesn’t bode well for our long term goal of paying off my loans, buying a house, visiting family, etc.  Now that my husband works days, we have to balance the net income from the job to the cost of paying daycare.  Although the pay-scale I am at is certainly not what I’m worth, it is what the job is worth.  So, now I’m learning to negotiate higher wages because I simply cannot work for less than a certain amount because it would cease to be cost effective.

The Triple Bottom Line, a policy theory for enacting sustainable ideas, argues we need to balance equally the economy, the environment, and equity.  If we fail to do those things, then we have not ensured our Triple Bottom Line is balanced and are most likely not moving towards a sustainable society.

The way temp work is structured, it fails to balance all three bottom lines.  The economy isn’t in balance with temp work because the jobs are often sporadic and not dependable.  Additionally, the wages vary, so it makes it difficult for a person, especially a single person relying on that income, to create a monthly budget.  Without a monthly budget, extra income is hard to come by let alone ensuring the basics are paid for.  When someone is unstable, one could argue that link is weak, and as the cliché states, “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

The environment isn’t in balance for probably many reasons, but the thought that occurred to me relates to transportation.  Here, in Portland, the public transportation is better than adequate.  However, some jobs require short notice, which yields to lack of proper alternative transportation.  When we have a set schedule or a schedule that’s announced with planning time, finding alternate routes to work can avoid nasty car emissions.  At minimum, one can find good bus routes that expedite travel time.  At best, one could find a route that utilizes no green house gases during travel – like riding a bike.  Reducing our green house gas emissions reduces our carbon footrpint which lends itself towards balancing the Triple Bottom Line.

Finally, the equity portion is out of balance.  Sometimes, temporary workers are viewed with disdain, “Just a temp.”  It’s easy to acquire temps – simply call the staffing service for they have a line of folks chomping at the bit.  It’s also easy to let a temp go – and you can do it with minimal personal interaction, thereby relieving yourself of seeing the pain in someone’s eyes as they are let go.  Here, I’m speaking specifically about how we view and then in-turn treat others.  We, as a society, view temps as less than human, instead of the co-worker you sat next for the last 6 weeks, that co-worker is demoralized and dehumanized into “just a temp.”  We do this in many places, somehow bolstering our own existence by lessening anothers.  That’s the thing that needs to stop.  When we finally began to view each other as equal and cease looking at one another with contempt, we will begin to balance the equity portion of the Triple Bottom Line.

Granted, many jobs require a burst of labor to get a job done.  My concern is how we, as a society, frame temporary workers whether it be in an office setting or for manual labor.

I came to a realization several years ago that we all kind of want the same thing.  We all want our loved ones taken care of, and often we want to be able to give support to those loved ones when they need it.  Loved ones can vary person to person, for instance an oil man might love his oil company and a pastor might love his parishioners.  The two examples might have very different best-interests regarding their ‘loved ones.’   But, I believe, the goal is the same – they want their loved ones taken care of.  Now, the goal we have as a society is to be able to mesh these opposing goals to create a win-win solution for everyone.  If we extend everyone to mean all creatures on this planet, then we begin to incorporate the triple bottom line.

And maybe that’s how we should frame our days – what do we want the world to look like for our loved ones.  Now, trade places with someone opposed to your ideals and really put yourself in their shoes.  How can we make both visions mesh?  How can we balance the triple bottom line so we cease to have such a disposable society.