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Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment

May/June 1997 issue of Poverty & Race

Carolina Alliance for
Fair Employment
1 Chick Springs Road, 110-B
Greenville, SC 29609
Contact: Charles Taylor

In November 1994, PRRAC helped to fund a "Temp School" organized by the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE), a grassroots organization in South Carolina whose primary constituents are low-wage workers. CAFE hired around 20 temp workers for a week, taught them about job rights and obtained information from the workers about temporary employment practices in the Greenville area.

The Temp School was one of the first organized efforts in the country to ask temps themselves how they see the issues and what they would like to see happen. Taking its cue from the participants, CAFE experimented with several smaller projects, such as starting a newsletter for temp workers (which was discontinued due to distribution challenges) and producing a written "Code of Conduct" for temp agencies (which was shared with other groups around the country, several of which are currently conducting campaigns around the standards concept).

The biggest project flowing out of the Temp School, however, has been CAFE's Temp Testing Project. In 1995-96, CAFE hired temps to register with targeted temp agencies, go out on assignments and work at least one day, and then report back to CAFE. CAFE met its goal of testing over half of the 60 temp agencies in Greenville County by completing tests on 32 agencies.

Through the testing process, CAFE identified two questionable practices that were widespread in the local temp industry. First, nearly all of the temp agencies tested (31 of 32) were not providing written notice of wages when sending temps out on assignments, as required under a state law regulating payment of wages. Second, nearly a third of the temp agencies (10 of 32) were asking medical questions prior to job offers, in possible violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

By February 1997, CAFE had tested seven temp agencies in four South Carolina cities to confirm the pattern and scope of potential legal violations discovered in Greenville. Regarding the wage notice issue, none of the seven agencies were providing written notice of wages to temps at the time of job assignments.

CAFE and the testers then filed formal complaints against the seven temp agencies with the state labor department, which has enforcement authority over the payment of wages statute. The assumption was that the state labor department would issue warning letters to the temp agencies, and then CAFE would publicize the violations so that all temp agencies in the state would begin providing proper wage notice to temps.

The state labor department found only three of the seven temp agencies to be in violation of the payment of
wages statute, however, which has led to a dispute between CAFE and the labor department over interpretation of the statute. The labor department has taken the position that all temp agencies have to do to comply with the wage notice statute is to notify workers at the time of registration that they will be paid at least minimum wage, and that their specific pay will vary according to job assignments.

CAFE's position is that written wage notice should be provided to temps at the point that they're actually assigned to jobs, with specific rates of pay. To resolve the dispute, CAFE sued the state labor department on April 23 in a declaratory judgment action, seeking a ruling from a judge as to how the wage notice statute should be interpreted.

At the Temp School funded in part by PREAC, around a third of the temp workers said they had experienced problems in being told one pay rate over the phone when being assigned to jobs, and then being paid a lower rate when they actually worked the assignment. CAFE believes that forcing temp agencies to provide written notice of wages when assigning temps to jobs will cut down on temps getting cheated on their pay.

The judge's ruling on this issue should come within the next six months. The legal ruling will undoubtedly lead to a legislative fight by the losing party to amend the payment of wages statute. Meanwhile, CAFE is now determining whether it has sufficient evidence to file a test case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act that were discovered in the testing process.

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