Making a definitive statement about temporary workers in the hospitality industry proves difficult, given the conflicting information about it from partial sources.
San Diego's Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 30 says temporary hospitality workers are facing a growing number of problems, however, a temp agency official that specializes in placing hospitality workers says she doesn't know of any malcontents.
And while the Center on Policy Initiative's recent survey on the temp industry says 35 percent of the county's 118,000 hospitality employees work under a “non-standard” employment status-non-standard being the encompassing term for employees who aren't permanent full-time-the president of the San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association says there aren't more than a handful of temps working in the local hotel industry.
It's hard to say, too, whether either of these situations negatively affects the industry or its workers. Scott Weinlein certainly never felt any negative impacts while temping at hospitality jobs, and neither did the co-workers he got to know.
Weinlein came to California from New York after graduating college in 1999. Now a staffing specialist with Adecco Employment Services' hospitality division, he got his start in the industry working as a temp banquet server at hotels in Los Angeles, a gig that, for him at least, was a fun way to make extra money.
He did, though, know fellow servers for whom temping was a much more serious pursuit. “For some people it's their livelihood,” he said. He knew employees who were registered with nearly every local company that provided staff for hospitality-industry jobs. “They'd do as many [events] as they can.”
A ‘growing problem'?
Jef Eatchel, a spokesperson for the 3,500-member hospitality union, says issues with temps in the hospitality industry are a “growing problem.”
“Right now it's getting more fashionable to consider employees temporary,” Eatchel said. Hotels often hire workers for several days to staff special events, then terminate them once the event concludes. The hotels then call the same employees several days later to work several more days for another event and terminate them again when that event ends, he contends.
“If you're lucky they'll keep you on, if they think that you're worthy of staying there,” he said. “It's a use-and-abuse syndrome. They say ‘Come on in and work at our place and we'll see how things work out and if you do a good job we might keep you on,' knowing full well they aren't going to do that,” he said.
The problem, Eatchel continued, is that many of these employees want full-time work with these hotels, and the several-day stints don't accumulate to help employees reach the necessary threshold to qualify for health benefits or a non-temporary status.
“All along, you and me as taxpayers, we're getting killed because these people don't have health care” so they use social services, he said.
But that's not what Paula Sutherland hears. As head of the hospitality division at Adecco, Sutherland believes the employees she places would be forthcoming enough to voice their frustrations about this type of treatment if it were happening.
Adecco's Weinlein says Eatchel's scenario can be typical of jobs in the hospitality industry, but only because hospitality work is seasonal by nature and follows the ebb and flow of travel seasons, corporate events, weddings and holiday parties. And that's something of which most hospitality workers are well aware.
There are plenty of opportunities for workers who want steady work in hospitality, he said. “I think it's all part of having a positive attitude and an open mind.” With the right attitude and drive, he stresses, a temp job can turn into any number of things, from a permanent position with a busy hotel to a full-time position, like his, as a staffing specialist within the temp industry itself.
Number affected anyone's guess
How many hospitality temps may-or may not be, as it were-experiencing these problems is anyone's guess. But given the fact that neither CPI, the union nor Adecco could provide an employee dedicated to finding hospitality temp work to comment for this report, an exact count is hard to pinpoint.
According to the CPI survey, hotels reported 7 percent of their workforce was placed through temporary agencies. However, the CPI survey asserts that 35 percent of the industry's employees are “non-standard.” And by that they mean temporary, part-time or seasonal.
Part-timers are considered non-standard because those workers normally don't qualify for health benefits and seasonal workers are classified as such because their positions are not permanent, explained Sundari Baru, CPI's research director.
Although many companies do not offer health insurance even to full-time workers, Baru said those worker's jobs are more secure because they can only be terminated for performance issues. “For temp workers or even on-call workers, they could be working at their best skill level and they'll be gone when that project is over,” Baru said.
Nevertheless, some employers in the hospitality industry can point to few temp positions.
“I have very little need for temporaries. We are a huge company and huge on promotions from within,” said San Diego County Hotel-Motel Association president Paul Corsinita, who is also general manager of the La Jolla Marriot.
With the poor economy, employees are sharing jobs more often and some are “double-coded” so they can, say, work as either a banquet server or a valet, Corsinita said. This has helped save the hotel from laying off as many employees as might be necessary otherwise.
Manpower Temporary Services president Phil Blair says his company provides only a handful of temps to San Diego's hospitality industry, and when he does, it is for specialized, office-centered positions.
“When we think of the hospitality industry, we think of restaurants and hotels, but then there's Sea World” and other attractions, Blair says. “We provide a lot of clerical support to Sea World, a lot of clerical support to the [San Diego] Zoo, all the characters, they're all Manpower temps.”
In contrast, Adecco's specialized hospitality division places about 100 workers each week in hotels, motels, restaurants and catering positions, and the division interviews between 25 and 75 new workers each week, Sutherland said.
Another challenge is fingering a reliable percentage of the number of people who temp in this industry because they like the lifestyle-working or not working whenever they want and doing it for a variety of employers.
CPI's survey reports that only 25 percent of temp workers do it for the lifestyle, and that the rest are looking for full-time work or a foot in the door with a good company.
“Some have other jobs, but the vast majority of them are looking for a better place to work or looking for a job because they're out of work,” the hospitality union's Eatchel said.
Of course, Adecco officials think differently. Sutherland finds that the vast majority of those she places in hospitality industry temp jobs continue to work as temps because they like the freedom.
Weinlein can't quantify the number of temp workers he's known over the years who temp as a segue to a permanent job or just because they like the lifestyle. Although, he does disagree with the 25 percent figure-it seems to him that more than that enjoy the temping lifestyle.
“If that were true, there wouldn't be seniors in the industry who have been doing it for so long. If they really couldn't stand it that much, why are they still in the industry?” Weinlein said.