In recent years staffing industry news has been over-run with horrible stories of staffing companies exploiting workers. What’s amazing to me isn’t the existence of exploitation. Certain people will always take advantage of others for their own gain if they find a way to. That’s why bad-guy staffing company stories will always be around. But the amazing thing right now, at least to me, is that these stories have gotten SO bad that people are equating “staffing” to “The Slave Trade.”
Check out the stories on the miners in Chile, lemon farms in Argentina, Filipinos at Florida golf courses, Buddhist monks enslaving Koreans, Global Horizons trafficking Thai workers, and this one from Uganda. Then there’s the union lawsuit in Indiana, The Jungle-esque undercover feature by a warehouse wage slave, this broken-English rant on American temp workers being slaves, and this review of Advantage Staffing.
Now I’m not giving credence to all of these allegations. I’m merely showing a glimpse of the broad-strokes approach some of the general populace are applying to the staffing industry painting. I know the vast majority of staffers are great, but when most people have heard stories like these, how can you possibly fight the abysmal perception?
My story comes from a few years ago, when for roughly 18 months I worked for a newspaper in Wisconsin Dells, officially trademarked “The Waterpark Capital of the World.” For those of you who don’t know the area (and attractions like Noah’s Ark, Wisconsin Ducks, and Tommy Bartlett), it’s essentially big-market amenities in a small rural town. And with so few people populating the Dells area (about 5,000), I was one of two reporters to cover all the goings-on.
And let’s just say I saw some serious shit. Some cool stuff, too, but definitely some shit.
Among that shit was the staffing practices of the enormous waterparks. In general, what these half-dozen places do is set up recruitment presentations overseas (mainly Eastern Europe) during their off-season. They get tons of foreign college students in a room, talk to them about easy summer work out in the sun, probably poolside. They promise full-time hours at decent wages, and provide lodging. Then they let them calculate what they could net (after travel and expenses) working one summer for them. And they fill their clipboards with applicants’ signatures. More than enough to cover a summer.
As you’re probably expecting, they often don’t detail the full story.
The lodgings are essentially run-down dorm rooms with several people to a room and a hot plate in the corner. Only some of the workers will be outside by the pool (mainly attractive females). And the cost of living is more spendy than many anticipate.
Believe it or not, many of the workers don’t care about any of that. All they want to do is work and earn money for their upcoming school costs (even if it is just minimum wage). But – wouldn’t you know it? – the parks aren’t totally transparent about that, either.
As I said, they gather more than enough candidates to cover their summer. They know some people will back out and not come, and others might quit shortly after starting. But often waterparks start summer with more employees than they need, and thus not everyone gets full-time hours.
“That’s OK,” thinks the foreign employee, “I’ll just round out my schedule with a few hours over at that restaurant down the street that’s hiring.”
“I don’t think so,” says the waterpark employer. “When you signed your contract, you agreed to work for us exclusively, which means you work here or you work nowhere.”
Now, not every waterpark operates in this sleazy way. Some are extremely highly regarded. But others are just assholes. Do they legally make any promises they don’t keep? I highly doubt it. You can bet the waterparks cover their asses well in the contracts. But is it misconceiving? Abso-fucking-lutely.
All the locals know about this phenomenon, and some have tried to stop it. There’s even a guy who runs a full-time business providing consultation to these kids, and helping them resolve these shitty issues. But what else could you do?
The whole thing is a strikingly accurate microcosm of the staffing industry.