We know an extreme number of workers who have been hit hard by business closures and job layoffs are affiliated with the hospitality industry. In Athens, countless workers from restaurants, bars, music venues, hotels, and other affiliated services have seen their hours reduced, and more likely, their jobs lost. This has been a staggering life changing time for many people.
Another job type that has been hit hard is that of a temporary worker. Traditionally, the temporary worker is needed to relieve a permanent full-time person that for one reason or another must be absent from work. This level of service assumes that the economy is stable and that businesses are thriving.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, during the third quarter of 2019 there were over 5.1 million workers in the state of Georgia, and 124,855 of those were listed as temporary workers. Temporary employment accounted for just over 2.4% of all jobs in Georgia. (Please note: at this time, the number of workers in the state is closer to 4.1 million workers.)
Right now, though, even though businesses can open under certain conditions, it does not automatically result in a renewal of business as usual. The future needs of many businesses cannot be easily anticipated because it’s difficult to determine when customers will return. This is then further hampered by the lack of certainty regarding when regular workers are needed to report to work, let alone that safety concerns prevent many from doing so anyway. But to the point, temporary needs are more unpredictable than ever because business is more unpredictable.
Quittis Smith-Luna of Northeast Georgia Temporary Service, Inc. knows all about this. Ms. Smith-Luna operates the business, one of almost two dozen temporary agencies in Athens (there are over 2600 around the state), out of the Fred Building. For 37 years, the firm has placed thousands of people in many different clerical, industrial, and construction related positions. Just prior to the economic downturn as a result of the COVID19 outbreak, Ms. Smith-Luna was facilitating placement of 39 individuals. Now she is down to one, a person assigned a long-term position within the government.
She said, “Many of these people have been with me for years and years and some of them even retired in some placements.” For example, she spoke excitedly about a Board of Elections office employee who she originally placed as a temporary. “She was with them for 20 years, and now she’s retired from there!”
Working all alone in her office lately, Ms. Smith-Luna says she’s getting a tremendous amount of email requests for temporary workers. The problem, she said, is that places are not testing for COVID19, with many not even taking temperatures. Qualified temporary workers are thus unable to take the jobs. “Workers just do not feel safe unless testing is in place,” she said. “Taking temperatures is just not enough, and testing needs to be increased.”
Ms. Smith-Luna believes the lack of testing is a result of nonexistent will at the state and national levels. She resents what appears to be the pressure for businesses to open without providing tests, which puts people in danger. “While Kemp tells places to open up for people to go to work, we never see his staff working around him.”
“I want people to watch out for other people’s health,” said Ms. Smith-Luna. “ If businesses can give the tests, I would be able to fill the orders.” And, she added, “The majority of people say they’d rather be on the job.” For now she just has to have them wait.
Ms. Luna-Smith said that she’s always done all she can do to take care of the people whom she places. Her company pays into unemployment so she knows that the people qualify for the assistance now that it’s so urgently needed. Also, the company’s website states that NE Georgia Temporary Service, Inc. is a HUD Section 3 provider, which in effect allows it to work with agencies like the Athens Housing Authority to match low income people with economic opportunities. And, she said, “I like to send my workers money on their birthdays!”
And her commitment to others, which she credits her adoptive parents for instilling that nurturing side of herself, is not limited to the people she places. Ms. Smith-Luna is extremely fond of Athens, and she has been deeply affected by what she sees today. “It’s so sad to see what’s happening downtown,” she said. “I care for everybody downtown.”
Ms. Luna-Smith said she keeps going into the office each day to keep her sanity, and also that she wants to be there when things turn around. And she’s quite optimistic that it will, which may be something of comfort coming from somebody who knows something about temporary things.by