Back in February I was on a wild goose chase searching for where our clients would work when I stumbled upon the state contract the city of Charleston abides by. The state contract mandates that all blue collar temporary workers should be paid $9.10 an hour. I shared this information with Pete, who didn’t believe me when I expressed in a frenzied flurry that I was certain blue collar temp workers working for the city—who are homeless and near-homeless—get paid the same as all other blue collar temp workers, $7.25.
Later that afternoon we talked with several of the guys from the Star Gospel Mission, who had worked for the city before, through Trojan Labor, a local labor agency. All of them confirmed our suspicions, that blue collar temp workers were being paid $7.25 even though the state contract mandates that these workers be paid $9.10. Within a week or two we had taken pictures of one of our friends who was working for the city and even had his pay stubs dating back to February 25th, each showing $7.25 an hour.
In the meantime we had also contracted the state procurement officer in Columbia, who said the state had the right to investigate if they suspected any fraud, and another state procurement officer who said we should solve things at the city level. We had begun that process too. We had started with a very kind lady at human resources, Susan, who had been calling and checking on the pay rates, and even eventually spoke with Mayor Riley.
On March 9th, when we were sure that Trojan Labor was in fact violating the state contract, we approached them with the document. They said they would look into it. When we approached Trojan Labor again on the March 31st, they said they were checking with corporate.
Then today, April 8th, one of our friends who works for the city through Trojan Labor (and also volunteers at and attends Seacoast Church with me) called us to say thank you, that his wage had been raised.
He said thank you, that this would make a difference in his life.
He said one of the other 12 coworkers who work for the city through Trojan Labor came up to tell him thank you as well, that he would be getting paid $9.10 an hour now.
So for IES, this is a huge success. We’re excited to see our friend and these other laborers make a higher wage.
But it’s a small step:
It’s a demonstration of some of the larger issues with for profit day labor. Both Susan and Damon claimed that they never would have known—in Susan’s case—that the state contract was being violated, and—in Damon’s case—that there was a state contract at all. There is no accountability. No transparency. There will also be no repay. By my calculations $11,544 since January should be in the pockets of the homeless and the near-homeless instead of a for profit labor agency. The problem of for profit day labor, when it comes to dealing with the homeless and near-homeless, is the problem of an entire system and not just one violation of a state contract.
For the homeless and near-homeless day laborer, this is a huge success too. It means hope. It means courage. On April 2nd, our friend who works through Trojan Labor for the city went and spoke with the manager of Trojan Labor, telling him that he knew about the state contract. He told him there was an organization that could prove he wasn’t being paid the right amount, and audaciously claimed that a state representative was planning to shake the tree.
But it too is a small step:
At a presentation at Charleston Southern University today, near the end I told them that In Every Story is about the conflict that is in every story, and then I began to cry. I tried to tell them that in every story there are examples of God’s love, hope, and redemption, but I couldn’t. Instead I cried. Pete had to finish. Because I realized that fairly paid temporary labor is still a small step for the homeless and near-homeless in the grandest scheme of things.
Thanks for your support.
And thank you God, for moving in a bigger way than we could have on our own.