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Temp Agencies Say Furloughed Government Workers Are Too Temporary


The ongoing partial government shutdown has some furloughed workers seeking short-term gigs to stay afloat. Temp agencies are seeing resumes of federal employees pile up. But many of these applicants have been rebuffed. Furloughed workers are seen as too temporary for even the temp jobs. Here's NPR's Rebecca Ellis.

REBECCA ELLIS, BYLINE: Tressa Rivera needs a job.

TRESSA RIVERA: Expert-related or business-related requirements and...

ELLIS: But she already has one. And it's a good job as a human resources liaison for FEMA. She moved to D.C. this summer just to do it, taking a pay cut and leaving her daughter in Oregon to finish her senior year. Then the government shut down.

RIVERA: You finally get into this rhythm and boom - you don't have a job.

ELLIS: Now she needs a second job. She's been scouting for side gigs on a site called FlexJobs, which pairs users with part-time work.


ELLIS: Rivera has landed two interviews, and she wants more. She needs the cash.

RIVERA: Right there on my fridge is a late notice for my car insurance.

ELLIS: And she needs to get her mind out of her basement apartment.

RIVERA: I have no windows, so I don't get any sunlight unless I go outside. Well, I don't have a reason to go out of my house because I can't afford to go anywhere.

ELLIS: So she hunts for positions from her couch. But for some employers, furloughed workers like Rivera are too unpredictable a hire.

RIVERA: You get there on Monday, and everything is great. And then Tuesday, they pass the resolution.

ELLIS: Heidi Parsont is the president of a staffing firm called TorchLight. She says her agency has seen an influx in accomplished applicants like Rivera.

HEIDI PARSONT: We've seen scientists. We've seen people in agriculture. We've seen IT people.

ELLIS: But she says there's too much uncertainty that comes with government employees. Peter McChesney, the head of D.C.'s Palmer Staffing Services, has the same problem. His pile of candidates has grown by a quarter since the shutdown. But he says he can't, in good faith, send any of them to employers.

PETER MCCHESNEY: They don't want turnover. They don't want to have to train two different people in two different weeks.

ELLIS: Temp agencies that supply companies with manual labor don't usually have this issue. They can match companies in need of extra hands with those in need of a paycheck in one day. During the shutdown, this quick fix is appealing to out-of-work government contractors like janitors and construction workers.


ELLIS: Sharmaine Jones has been taking calls at the Labor Finders in Suitland, Md. The story on the other end of the line is the same one she's been hearing for the last month.

SHARMAINE JONES: He is a contractor for the government. Right now, he doesn't know what's going on with his job.

ELLIS: Jones estimates the branch gets upwards of 30 calls a day from government workers out of the job. They call in.

PRE-RECORDED VOICE: Thank you for calling Labor Finders.

ELLIS: They receive a 20-minute training, and they can get matched with whichever company needs the labor.

JONES: Sometimes, our guys come here at 5:30 in the morning, and they don't get anything.

ELLIS: The shutdown has made this a tricky month to rely on Labor Finders. Jones says it's been slow.

JONES: Some of our facilities that are ran through the government have slowed down and some of them just not working anymore.

ELLIS: This is how Gregory Stewart lost his paycheck. Pre-shutdown, Stewart worked for a government contractor, clearing rubble at the headquarters of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. When funding ran out for the project, his boss told him to head home. So now he's here at Labor Finders bright and early.

GREGORY STEWART: Today, I had to get up, like, quarter to 4. I live all the way across town.

ELLIS: He's got a family to feed.

STEWART: My child's only 4 months.

ELLIS: But this morning, no company is calling in with work.

STEWART: We just sit here and we wait and wait and hope.

ELLIS: When the sun rises, workers start to give up and filter out.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I got better things to do.

ELLIS: A little later, Stewart decides to follow suit. He'll play with his daughter and try again tomorrow. Rebecca Ellis, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLOWWORM'S "LUX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Ellis
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