Chris, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, once interned at Toyota during college, doing computer-aided design and drafting. He spoke on condition that his last name would not be used. Even with a degree and an internship on his résumé, he, too, was steered to Manpower as the only door into Toyota. But unlike the other temps, he figured his temporary stint would quickly lead not just to the factory floor, but to the white-collar suites.
Now, after four years, he frets that his wife wants a second child but he's not sure how they'll pay for the insurance.
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.
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"These people are making extreme sacrifices, working second shift, no benefits, low pay," fumed Matt Roberts, 31, a full-time Toyota worker since 1997. "It's a disgrace to the American dream. That's what it is."
For years, the United Auto Workers has tried to unionize the Toyota plant, to no avail. Recently, the use of temps has become a major issue. For full-time workers, the temps present a quandary. On the one hand, the full-time workers may see the temps as Toyota does, a buffer protecting their jobs. The more low-paid workers there are at the plant, the more profitable the company will be, and the less likely to resort to layoffs, suggested David Cole, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. A union might threaten that buffer by demanding that temps be brought on full-time or dismissed.
"The temps may help keep the union out," Cole said. "It's in the selfish, vested interest of the full-time workers to keep more temps."
But some Toyota workers do not see it that way. Several full-time employees said the growing presence of temps at the plant is holding back their wage gains, while limiting their movement in the plant. Some employees say they have been stuck working nights because any open day-shift positions are quickly filled by temps.
"If you break down, they've got a new guy waiting at the door," said Roberts, who with his wife, another Toyota worker, clears a six-figure income. "You're creating a tug of war. There's no protection for either side."
In Georgetown, the divisions can show up in strange, some say demoralizing, ways.
Toyota is famous for the "kaizen" -- continuous improvement -- checks that it pays to workers who come up with suggestions that save money. Earlier this year, Hicks and Chris helped devise a change that cut two jobs from their small quadrant of the assembly line. The change meant more work for everyone, but it was more efficient. Toyota rewarded the idea by sending out $500 checks to every member of the team, every full-time member, that is.
The two temps who came up with the suggestion got nothing. Their group leader did feel bad. He gave each of them a $25 gift certificate to the Toyota company store.
Then a full-time worker slipped them both $50.
"You guys got us this money," Chris recalled him saying. "Sorry I can't give you more."