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Correction to This Article
An Oct. 11 article on temporary employment incorrectly said that the Labor Department classifies 12.1 percent of the workforce as "contingent workers." Some of the workers in that 12.1 percent are employed in what the department classifies as "alternative work arrangements" -- a category that includes temporary employees, independent contractors, on-call workers and contract company workers.
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Permanent Job Proves An Elusive Dream

Palmetto Staffing charges Faurecia a flat $12-an-hour for each of its temps. If Faurecia hired its own permanent workers, expenses for workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and other demands would add $4 to $5 onto a $9-an-hour wage. Benefits would add more.

Even the temps cannot argue with the logic of hiring a lower-cost workforce. "I don't really blame Toyota," said Roy Biddle, who went to work at the Georgetown plant at the same time Phil Hicks did, nearly four years ago, with similar assurances that he would land a full-time job after a year. "The law's the law, and they're just doing what they can do under the law."

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.
_____Related Coverage_____
As Income Gap Widens, Uncertainty Spreads (The Washington Post, Sep 20, 2004)
Transcript: Washington Post staff writer Griff Witte was online to talk about the first installment of this series.

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To temper expectations, Toyota last year implemented a new policy capping temporary employment at two years. After that period, workers must leave, but can reapply in six months. If hired again, a worker starts at the entry wage of $12.60 an hour, compared with more than $14 per hour if they have been there for a few years.

About 160 long-term temporaries, like Biddle and Hicks, were grandfathered in and allowed to stay indefinitely.

Nancy Johnson, director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Kentucky, said that because of the new policy, temps now cycle from one plant to another, working at Toyota, then at nearby E.D. Bullard Co., making fire helmets, then perhaps at an auto parts supplier before heading back to Toyota.

At the Kentucky State Cabinet for Health and Family Services' community office in Georgetown, social workers say more Toyota temps are applying for state aid to cover food costs and medical bills.

"It's the traditional Japanese model that people talked about in the '80s," Johnson said. "Toyota never lays people off, sure, but the temps are absorbing the financial swings of all these companies, and they're doing it at a price."

Rick Hesterberg, a plant spokesman, noted that $12 to $14 an hour in central Kentucky compares favorably to wages even for some permanent jobs. "These people still make good money," he said of the temps. "It's nothing to snuff your nose at, at least in this part of the country."

But many Toyota temps say their problems go beyond money. Indeed, life seems always on the edge of disaster, where even rewards -- the small gift bag of cookie cutters or the "Star Performer" T-shirts that are given out to temps -- seem more like petty humiliations. In February, a Toyota temp posted an anonymous "discussion" paper in the assembly-line men's rooms, pleading "the 'E' word, 'E' for exploitation."

"There are temps at [Toyota] who have been here for 3 years, some approaching 4 years, many waiting for the permanent job offer," the essay reads. Toyota "is exploiting their patience, their economic status, their work ethic, their work contribution, their reliability, their health, their safety."

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