Untangling Discrimination - ACRE Institute

How Temporary Staffing Agencies Rely on a Racist Business Model to Discriminate

Today’s temporary work landscape emerges from a history of racist labor practices dating back to slavery and sharecropping. The earliest iteration of temporary staffing agencies sold slave labor and indentured servitude through what were then called “intelligence offices.” This institution transformed into the modern-day temporary staffing agency. Nevertheless, temporary work, which is often not very temporary, remains intertwined with its history of exploitation and anti-Black discrimination as the industry continues to trap workers in debt and keeps millions in abysmal working conditions.

Modern-day temporary staffing agencies continue to target Black, Brown, and immigrant workers with unstable, unsafe, and substandard jobs. These agencies have historically targeted groups that are already subject to unequal treatment in the labor market. For example, when modern-day temporary staffing agencies formed in the mid-20th century, many targeted white women labeling them as undeserving of full-time work. The temporary staffing industry is now a $186 billion industry that relies on public dollars, avoids responsibility for labor violations, and undermines good-quality, union jobs, all while maintaining many of the same conditions of debt bondage and exploitation as sharecropping.