Even without layoffs, however, the plant's full-time staff has declined by 706 positions from the 7,787 employees it had in 2000, according to Toyota. Over that time, the temp workforce dipped from 409 in 2000 to 301 in 2002, then rose to 425 late this summer.
Toyota managers say they will try to hire all of their long-term temporaries by the end of the year or in early 2005, after they see how many Toyota workers accept an early retirement package. Forty-seven temps were hired in late September. The management move came after The Washington Post spent a week in Kentucky examining the temporary employment issue at the Georgetown plant. Before September's hires, it had been two years since the plant hired a full-time "team member," Toyota managers said, a period during which the plant shed 240 full-time positions. Temporary employment during that time rose by 124.
Roy Biddle has worked nearly four years at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., but is still classified as a temporary worker. He stands with his son, Dalton.
(Mary Annette Pember For The Washington Post)
Help Wanted -- Temporarily One portion of the contingent labor force that is growing rapidly is temporary workers. In 1982, there were 417,000 workers classified as temporary help. Today there are 2.5 million. Temps accounted for about one third of the 96,000 jobs added to the economy in September.
"Certainly the long-term temporary issue is one that we regret," said Pete Gritton, the plant's vice president of administration and human relations. "We never intended to have those people in here for four years or whatever as temporary."
Temporary employment is an increasingly important issue for unions. The expansive labor contract reached between the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co. in September 2003 includes six pages of rules governing the use of temps. Under the agreement, Ford can bring on a temporary worker for a maximum of 89 days, after which the worker must be hired or dismissed. Most temps can only work two days a week, as well as "premium" days such as holidays.
Just 62 miles west of the Toyota plant, the UAW made a stand at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant, refusing even to countenance 89-day temps.
"It's a big, big deal," said Mike Stewart, the UAW's building chairman at the plant in Louisville. "Any time you get this kind of [compensation] divide, it just means less people making less money who can't afford your product. We will always keep temps to a minimum."
The use of temporary workers appears to be most pervasive in plants owned by foreign companies, which tend to locate in states where laws make union organizing difficult, said Susan N. Houseman, a researcher at the independent W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich. One Japanese auto parts plant estimated that a 5 percentage point reduction in the share of temps in the workforce would increase total labor costs by $1 million over a year, an Upjohn study found.
At BMW's auto plant near Greenville, S.C., about 175 temporary workers supplement a production workforce of 3,500, keeping the assembly line churning out Z-4 roadsters and X-5 sport utility vehicles for the U.S. and global market through lunch hour and break times, said Robert M. Hitt, a spokesman for BMW Manufacturing.
At Faurecia S.A., a BMW supplier in nearby Fountain Inn, S.C., about a third of the workers making door panels, consoles and dashboards for the Z-4 are temps, said Campbell Manning of Palmetto Staffing Group Inc., the temporary employment agency that staffs the French auto parts supplier.
"They don't hire permanent," she said. "After 90 working days, they used to roll onto the payroll. Now they just keep them as long-term temps."