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Temp Agencies Pit Black Applicants Against Latinx Applicants, Report Finds

New York, NY – A new report says temp agencies are intentionally pitting Black and Latinx workers against each other in order to prevent either group from uniting and speaking out against low wages and abusive work conditions.

The report, “Opening the Door: Ending Racial Discrimination in Industrial Temp Hiring Through Innovative Enforcement” — revealed that two-thirds of agencies engaged in discrimination — primarily discriminating against Black applicants.

“We recruited and trained experienced Black and Latinx temp workers to work as testers to report as neutral fact-finders,” Elias Cohen, manager for strategic initiatives at the Equal Rights Center, said this week. “Then we did matched-pair tests at 60 agencies in the Chicago area. We paired mutually qualified applicants — one Black applicant and one Latinx applicant — who went into a staffing agency within minutes of each other and we made sure they were well matched with variables other than race.”

According to Cohen, the Black and Latino applicants shared approximately the same work experience, age and gender. The Equal Rights Center also made sure applicants dressed appropriately for the interviews and had the same access to transportation and qualifications for the jobs.

“As soon as testers left the agency, we documented the treatment they received by administering a detailed survey, which they completed independently of one another, so testers did not know what treatment their partners received and they would report on just their own experiences,” Cohen said.

The agencies tested represented a random sampling of the industrial staffing employment businesses in the greater Chicago area,

Black applicants were offered 75% of the same jobs dispersed to Latinx temp workers. They also received fewer follow-up messages, were offered lower pay and received less desirable jobs with second-shift, third-shift or graveyard shifts, according to the report.

The report also found preferential hiring of Latinx workers, which included better pay, productivity bonuses and a lack of drug tests. These workers could also have computer applications instead of paper applications and had offers to other forms of employment after the first temporary gig came to an end. Still, this group often dealt with verbal abuse, stolen wages and violations of workers’ rights violations. The undocumented were threatened with deportation.

“Members of these groups make up most of the people applying for jobs in this industry,” said Cohen. “There is abundant evidence that staffing agencies routinely discriminate between members of these two groups by using stereotypes.”

Black workers are described as high-risk or non-compliant by these staffing agencies, according to Cohen. Hispanic workers are hired at higher numbers for exploitation.

“The treatment of Black workers as on-call, back-up workers for preferred Latinx workers, can sow resentment and mistrust among workers,” the report states. “If one group tries to organize, they can be threatened with replacement by the other group.”

Brittany Scott, a senior researcher for Partners for Dignity & Human Rights and co-author of the report, discovered that of the 204 job offers given to testers from the 60 agencies — 82-percent of the work was segregated.

“Jobs were either offered to only the Black applicants or only the Latinx applicants, but never both,” said Scott. “With 500,000 temp jobs offered in the Chicago-metro in 2019, studies suggest as many as 423,000 were racially segregated that year.”

That figure is in proportion to the 60 sites sampled out of the approximately 700 agencies located in the Chicago-metro area, according to Scott. Of the 60 agencies tested, 70% were in Latinx neighborhoods and less than 10% were in Black communities.

“Companies appear to be using race and ethnicity as indicators of increased vulnerability associated with undocumented immigration status,” said Scott.

Staffing agencies also used code words to subtly describe the type of workers they would recruit or not recruit.

“No Mohammeds” was used to refer to Arab people and “vanilla cupcakes” or “blue eyes” were used to describe white workers. To pit Latinx people against Blacks, agencies would describe the latter as “guapos (the handsome ones)” because they were more likely to speak up against harsher work conditions. Latinx people were called “feos (the ugly ones)” for being hard-working enough to be in unsavory work environments.

“At the office of the temp service, instead of saying, ‘We need bodies to work.’ They would say, ‘We need basketball players, hockey players or soccer players.’ You do the math!” said outraged temp worker Mark Balentine. “We are human beings!”

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