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The Good Temp

by Vicki Smith and Ester B. Neuwirth

Publication Year: 2008

Temporary agencies place approximately two and a half million people in jobs each day in the United States. Every year, about twelve million people use these placement agencies to find temporary work. Many Americans, even those who desire permanent jobs, decide to enter the labor market through the portal of temporary agencies. Compared with the post-World War II era, when it was a marginal labor practice, temporary employment is today an entrenched feature of jobs and labor markets. How have temporary employment relationships become so widespread and normalized?

In The Good Temp, Vicki Smith and Esther B. Neuwirth provide some novel answers to this question. Their provocative analysis is based on an insider's view of the interior dynamics of a temporary help agency in Silicon Valley. It incorporates a historical perspective on the rise of the temporary help service industry. Smith and Neuwirth document how this powerful industry not only created a new market for temporary labor but also played a fundamental role in the erosion of the permanent employment model. They analyze how agencies themselves came to manufacture and market this reinvented product-the good temp, an employee who is effective and efficient, committed, and sometimes preferable to a permanent staff member.

Joining extensive participant observation data with historical analysis, The Good Temp contains some surprising findings about temporary employment today and fills a significant gap in our understanding of this important labor relationship.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

We are grateful to the individuals at the organizations we studied and hope that we did justice to them in our effort to analyze the complexity of their world. ...

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1. The Temporary Advantage: Introduction

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pp. 1-31

The story of the explosion of temporary employment and the challenge to the permanent employment contract in the last half of the twentieth century has been told many times. Researchers from a variety of academic disciplines have written about it, as have activists who organize to help American workers maintain a decent standard of living and a modicum of dignity, ...

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2. The Social Construction of New Markets and Products

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pp. 32-68

In the mid-twentieth century the temporary help service industry succeeded in recasting temporary employment from a marginal to a normative practice. But, as argued in chapter 1 institutional and legal market-making activities can’t fully explain this success. ...

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3. “We’re Not Body Pushers”: Constructing a Pool of Good Temps

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pp. 69-97

For a temporary help service agency, attracting, developing, keeping, and controlling good temps is by no means automatic or straightforward. Nor is convincing people who really want permanent jobs that a temporary job is acceptable. ...

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4. Softening “Rough and Tough Managers”: Creating “Good Enough” Jobs for Temps

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pp. 98-121

Temporary help service agencies have a considerable investment in producing a pool of workers who will accept the terms of temporary employment and work in a reliable, effective fashion. Precarious as their acceptance may be, it is the foundation for participation in a system of contingent employment. ...

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5. Shaping and Stabilizing the Personnel Policy Environment

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pp. 122-147

The elephant in the room thus far is the human resources manager. In the previous chapter, HR managers appeared on stage as important actors in the construction of new employment relations: adversaries of some shop floor managers, novitiates who enlisted Select Labor’s help on occasion, and begrudging recipients of agency staff’s brokering activities. ...

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6. Do Good Enough Temporary Jobs Make Good Enough Temporary Employment? The Case for Transitional Mobility

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pp. 148-176

Select Labor shaped and sustained the labor market for temporary workers in a variety of ways. Its staff extended many genuine forms of assistance and guidance to people seeking temporary jobs. They tried to select people who showed promise of being good, quality temporary workers and, once hiring them, tried to further construct and maintain them as such. ...

Appendix I: Analyzing the Management Media

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pp. 177-182

Appendix II: Frequently Asked Questions about the Economic and Legal Dimensions of Temporary Employment

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pp. 183-190


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pp. 191-210


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pp. 211-228


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pp. 229-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780801459313
E-ISBN-10: 0801459311
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801477966
Print-ISBN-10: 0801477964

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1