The staffing industry is on an upswing these days, thanks to a strong quarter and even stronger demand, according to the American Staffing Association. But while things are looking good within the sector, discrimination and unionization issues could pose long-term challenges.
The third quarter of 2015 was one worth remembering for the temporary and contract staffing industry.
The American Staffing Association reported last month that 3.32 million temporary employees and contractors found work through an employment agency, an increase of 1.8 percent from last year and the highest third quarter since 2000.
The association noted that this was a clear sign of improvement for the economy as a whole—especially as there appears to still be room for growth in the sector.
“Staffing employment continues to grow as the demand for talent increases, and, with 5.4 million job openings in the U.S., there are lots of opportunities for job seekers looking for flexible or permanent positions,” ASA President and CEO Richard Wahlquist noted last month.
Overall, the staffing picture looks strong, but there are some issues that could affect the industry in the long run. Chief among them are:
Discrimination by employers: Earlier this month, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal site reported on the increase of discriminatory practices used by employers that use temp agencies to fill roles. The center found that some employers used sexist or racist hiring standards, sometimes relying on coded language when asking for temporary workers. Agencies often follow along to remain competitive. ASA General Counsel Stephen Dwyer told Reveal that the association opposes such actions, and he argues that discriminatory practices are not widespread. “I think that it’s very much a small minority of the industry that engages in this practice,” he told Reveal. “Certainly, the majority of our members act, or strive to act at least, in a law-abiding manner.”
Steps toward unionization: Meanwhile, there have been cases of unionization involving temporary workers—something now allowed, thanks to a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board that broadened the definition of joint employers. Much of the attention regarding that decision has been targeted toward franchisees, but it also affects temporary or contract workers who indirectly work for an employer. The Massachusetts-based Bob’s Tire Company learned this the hard way after a group of workers from Guatemala, hired through a temporary agency, decided to organize due to both working conditions and low wages. In September, the employees voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
While ASA admits there may be some impacts due to the joint employer shift, the association’s Dwyer tells NPR that most temporary workers are not in a situation akin to the one faced by Bob’s Tire Company—whose temporary workers worked for the same firm for a number of years. Nonetheless, the joint employer situation is creating confusion.
“The business community and the employee community needs to be able to rely on established legal precedent, and when there is a moving target in terms of what that standard is, it creates confusion,” Dwyer noted.