We hear all the time that the sole purpose of a business is to make money – bottom line. If companies don’t make money then they don’t hire workers, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t produce, and some would say that if they don’t make money then the world won’t go round. But there has to be more to a good business model than just gaining as much short-term profit as possible for those at the very top. A successful and responsible business model has to include worker protections and living wages. And the best way for employers to ensure those things is to have a well-trained and safe workforce.
Unfortunately, over the years we have seen more and more companies turn to temp employment agencies to staff their workforce. Employment agencies have ballooned over the last 20 years, becoming a multi-headed behemoth that provides workers for every sector and career from construction to manufacturing to data management.
But these employment agencies allow for disconnects from the company and the worker, and even the temp agency and the worker. Employment agencies provide a buffer, and arguably plausible deniability, when accidents happen to workers on the job.
In 2021, which workers should be calling the “Year of the Worker,” employers need to treat their workers better. They need to provide a safe working environment, a living wage, benefits, and the proper training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to get the job done. And they need to assure that the workers have the proper pay for the proper job classification.
The laws, rules, and regulations that we have on the books currently don’t seem to be enough to protect our workers. It’s up to us to demand more. When a company can have hundreds of OSHA violations and be allowed to continue operating, or numerous work-related accidents and even deaths, yet still be allowed to operate, then the almighty dollar is winning.
Companies like Aerotek serve as an employment agency to our ever-changing economy. Wherever workers are needed, they claim they will be there. Their website states that they can provide workers for a myriad of tasks, including accounting, aviation & defense, architecture & design, automotive, construction, customer service, energy & utilities, engineering, environmental, financial services, government and public administration, healthcare, and many more. But are they a jack of all trades but a master of none, as the saying goes?
Aerotek has over 250 offices around the country and claims to place 130,000 industrial and skilled trade workers every year in construction, manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and warehouses. Of course, while it might be said that a big part of being a “skilled worker” is being a SAFE worker, it is reported that Aerotek workers have been subject to 113 OSHA inspections in the last 5 years!
Just prior to the pandemic shutting down the economy, one of Aerotek’s workers was killed on the job in Chehalis, Washington, which apparently resulted in one of the largest wrongful death suits for an individual in Washington state. The worker was employed as an excavator operator at the Skookumchuck Wind Energy project when a trench collapsed. The worker jumped into the trench to save another worker when a second collapse trapped him. A rescue team was able to get to the first worker in time, but not the second. The fatality left a fiancé and the worker’s three-year-old daughter behind.
One instance of a death for a company can be traumatic but for Aerotek it wasn’t the first. Perfecting one field of specialization seems hard enough for most companies, but to be experts in recruiting for so many fields may leave one open to mistakes, and potentially leaves employers with unqualified people to make their quotas and goals. As we know, unqualified and untrained people make more mistakes.
It is further reported that Aerotek and its employees have also been involved in at least 42 OSHA inspections due to non-fatal accidents. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division reports details of 66 cases since 2002 in which Aerotek was investigated. Wage-related violations were reported in 48 of those cases affecting 590 workers, and the firm was found to owe $1.3 million in back wages. These violations dealt with the Fair Labor Standards Act, Davis-Bacon, the Service Contract Act and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act.
At some point, we believe the Department of Labor and OSHA need to double down on requiring and, possibly, providing instruction to companies that provide staffing, so they can provide qualified workers and ensure that they are trained properly for the work they are being asked to perform.
Since 2009, Aerotek has apparently been named in over 500 lawsuits throughout the country. Aerotek has been sued and fined repeatedly for wage and hour violations, discrimination, employment screening violations, wrongful termination, breach of contract, personal injury, and wrongful death. Furthermore, it is reported that Aerotek has been taken to court on numerous occasions for undermining investigations and withholding information. The company appears to have lost every one of those cases.
The rise of employment agencies and the questionable use of “contractual” workers was exacerbated over the last four years by a Trump-led Department of Labor that acted more as an arm of the Chamber of Commerce and less as the watchdog agency watching out for workers as it was intended. On top of that the rise in contractual employees, Amazon, Lyft, Uber and Door Dash, to name just a few, are leaving workers out in the cold on benefits, living wages, and proper safety and training.
We hope a new day will dawn at the Department of Labor and OSHA. It’s a tall order, there is a lot of work to be done, and we must hold those in charge accountable, regardless of their political party or background. The good news is, it appears that for the first time in years we have people at the Department of Labor and OSHA who take their jobs of protecting workers seriously.
We need help for workers wanting to redress their grievances, who want to organize as a Union, and workers who want to stay safe on the job. These agencies need to do more than just put on window dressings. Marty Walsh needs to stick to his roots of being a Union Laborer and bring that to the job of Secretary of Department of Labor. James Frederick needs to keep in mind all of the cases he dealt with for the Steelworkers. They are not just tasked with righting a ship set adrift by the Trump administration, but they also must correct all of the wrongs it did along the way.