Nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King’s death, African Americans remain second-class citizens in the U.S. economic order. All people are created equal, but in the United States some people , namely whites, have historically been more equal than others. But times are changing.
Consider these facts:
The African American unemployment rate is twice as high as that of white Americans.
During the past 15 years, black workers’ wages have decreased by 44 cents, while Hispanic and white workers’ wages have risen by 48 cents and 45 cents, respectively.
The typical white household has 16 times the wealth of a black one.
Temp agencies are booming. Businesses are the customers and workers are the commodities. The industry is at an all-time high of nearly 3 million workers a month, up from just over 1 million in 1990. In terms of jobs, it’s among the fastest-growing sectors in the country, according to a government analysis. There exists a pattern endemic to the temp industry of racist discriminatory hiring – a practice the top federal regulator acknowledges is growing and difficult to combat. This bias hides in the business transactions of an important, expanding sector of the U.S. economy. Temp agencies face financial pressure to please their customers. Temp agencies, are driven by competition to go above and beyond to please their customers. Employers sometimes think they can get away with it if a temp agency does the dirty work for them. Temp workers, replaceable on a whim, are especially vulnerable. And with multiple companies intertwined, it’s hard to prove claims of discrimination. Temp agencies are service providers. Some employers look to temp agencies as a convenient way to discriminate as well.
Marc Bendick, a Washington economist who studies discrimination explains, “The fact of the matter is that a lot of the regular employers basically want to contract out their discrimination,” he said. “They know the workforce they want, but they don’t themselves want to violate workplace discrimination laws. They want clean hands.”
Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing the federal ban on job discrimination. “Staffing agencies are refusing to place African American employees based on their race,” she said, “and they are terminating employees when they complain about that, as well as limiting assignments that individuals may have.”
Worker abuses are much harder to address and prevent because if your "boss" is mistreating you in some way, then you don't actually work for him so you can't report his actions to anyone but your temp agency. They have no incentive to do anything about it, which will cost them a client, so they just tell the "troublemakers" to go and send a supply of fresh victims instead.
Around the country, temp agencies have used code words to filter workers by race, age and gender, according to interviews and lawsuits brought by former employees. Simple, creative or plain offensive, the codes show how institutionalized the practice has become. n New Jersey, blacks were called “number 2s.” In Illinois, “Code 3” meant a Latino worker. A Texas temp agency called whites “blue eyes.” An Ohio agency called them “vanilla cupcakes,” “hockey players” or someone “like you and me.” Another agency owner in Alabama was accused of running her finger along her own white cheek to indicate a preference for whites. n Seattle, “no Mohammeds” meant not to send anyone of Arab descent. In Florida, construction contractors said, “Don’t send me any monkeys,” meaning blacks. In Texas, “bilingual” often meant a request for Latinos in jobs where speaking more than one language wasn’t necessary. Notes from one job order read, “ ‘Good ol’ boy,’ as per customer, no B ppl.” Applications allegedly were marked with a dot for black workers, a circle for Hispanic and an X for Indian.