Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Once upon a time...

Maybe I never noticed the sly manipulations of temp agencies before. More likely, it was in Los Angeles where everyone is a professional actor, that I was first introduced to them, so the almost stunning women who followed their dream from Iowa to Santa Monica and were deciding my daily fate actually didn't care if they manipulated me or not. They were temporary themselves so it made no difference if they led me on to think I was either important or else munificently unimportant...and should beg for their good favors. I genuinely liked some of the dispatchers, locked in a climate controlled lobby for five days a week, sending people like me to exotic places in the Valley or Orange County. We were all chasing a dream that was just on the other side of a traffic light, if only...oops, the light turned red. Maybe we'll catch it one day. So I grew up with these folks and we almost became human beings to one another. I gave one of them a plant for Christmas. Not because I wanted more work (that's insane) but because it was Christmas in a city without a soul and I thought...well, who knows what I thought. It was silly.

That was Los Angeles, where everyone is hedging their bets that they'll be touched by the gold finger and their lives would change. The lies ran deep. Here in New Hampshire I finally met the professional ball buster, the hired hatcheman, the trained filter for the corporations. I was confused that the good humor I remembered from California was absent in my conversations. Did they actually take their jobs seriously? Impossible. But could they take the jobs they were offering me seriously? Aluminum fin assembler. Cable trimmer. Auto Detailer. Light bulb changer. They dangled these jobs in front of me like a tempting fisherman and I kept thinking, "You forgot to put the worm on the hook."
The tone of their voices is so grave, like demanding my birth certificate without even explaining if there is a job opportunity available is a reasonable request. You want a reference to make sure I can operate a spray bottle? Their tone, the same in every agency, is too similar, like a trainer has been doing his job too well. Let me guess what a few of the chapters in orientation are:
1: Keep the client guessing.
2: Sound superior.
3: Never volunteer any information.

I always liked the way the dispatchers would ask me to go somewhere and then pause when I asked how much I was going to get paid.
"Let me check."
"Take your time."
"It changes every time."
"Give me a ballpark figure."

Two recent experiences have left me cold. The attitude I got over at Seacoast associates was like I was the scum of the earth who was wasting their time. Save your breath if you want to tell me to swallow my pride. There comes a point where a company policy of breaking your spirit (so you will be deemed worthy of their corporations) is sadistic. Not because of a single loose nut asking the questions, but sadistic because you must pass the tests you'll later face when you work in an aluminum mill. I see the point. If you can't take the attitude from the temp agency then you won't get far in the workplace. That might've been the problem up in Laconia. The temp agency treated me casually. I felt welcome, like I had an opinion that mattered. I see this was misleading because the workplace was the exact opposite. I was dirt, an expense, that either justified itself or was dismissed. The Portsmouth area has truly embraced temp agency work models. There are about 8 local agencies and several more that operate from Mass. Temp agencies are the number one employer in America and always growing. It's allowed companies to close human resources and accounting departments. They outsource these tasks to the Leddy Group, Manpower, Apple One, Wilson, Labor Ready, John Galt Group, Seacoast Associates and others.
I remember working for a temp agency in the early '90s and it was a friend of mine doing the dispatching. She was friendly, asked the minimal number of questions, tried to match certain skills with certain jobs. That was where I got a job alphebetizing videos for a new store. They were mostly VHS tapes to give you an idea of when that was. The corporate paradigm took almost 20 years to develop the teeth I'm seeing now. They're tired of slackers coming and going and since half the state is on welfare they figure they are in charge. They not only can pick and choose who they assign work, they can treat you like dirt from the moment you are on the phone. I can tell by the tone of their voice that they have been trained to talk that way. They are the gatekeepers and now the gatekeepers have a training manual. The screening process doesn't start at the interview, it starts when they answer the phone like you've just interrupted them during a shower.

No moral to this story. I just wanted to send out a heads up to any temp agencies that I'm the guy your trainer warned you about. I've got a manual too. Yes, I'll call you and yes, I'll come to your interviews, but I know your game and it's not going to work. In fact, you know that frustrated, bitter, sick feeling you have after meeting me? It's no accident.
When I'm in Labrador this is something I won't be missing.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.