The Asshole Way to Hire - Contract Workers

I tend to frequent Arstechnica a lot because they have really good tech stories. I came across a story on the site recently about companies that contract hire excessively (ArsTechnica story link ) that hit close to home for me due to a recent experience with a offered contract hire that was suspect to say the least. First some additional details for the uninitiated.

Contract hiring has become a serious problem for many people over the last few years. What it amounts to is companies simply don't want to pay for full time employees anymore but still have the expectation that contract workers produce the level of quality and quantity of work of a full time employee. Obviously, there are no benefits, salaries can be woefully below market rate for some contract workers and there is no sense of security because contract hires aren't actual employees. The company gets the benefit of your talent without the commitment to adding you to staff.

Arstechnica has written a good article on this and the negative effects of it. But the real meat of the article is in the comments which features some harrowing stories of how excessively hiring contract workers is evil and unsustainable for various reasons. One key reason among them being the skilled workers needed to move the company forward were never hired, only contracted temporarily. As a result, the company begins to collapse. Especially when the older employees that are permanent hires in upper management begins to retire, leave the company or pass away. Another negative effect is contract work doesn't allow for career growth or a career path for the contractor. This path would allow upper management employees that move on to be replaced with mid-level employees that know the company, know the processes and know the clients. But how does that work when mid level employees are just a series of contractors that aren't with the company for longer than a year with no way to get promoted? Hired guns just going through the motions because the company can't be bothered to commit. Other than making a few bucks (maybe) there's no other real incentive to sign the contract on average. Dreams of being promoted and retiring from a firm died for many professionals years ago. Now it's simply about the hustle in system that's obviously broken.

A couple of months ago I had a contract job that was offered to me after I was passed over as a full time hire by the same company. The initial project was a illustration/graphic recording job that would only take a couple of hours to complete during a live presentation. Initially, I wasn't actually supposed to work that night, I was to observe to see how graphic recording is done and decide if it was something I'd like to pursue. This didn't make sense to me because graphic recording isn't anything extensive that would require lengthy observation for any artist with even moderate talent. It's nothing more than sketching based on what's being presented in the moment. Any artist that's sketched on their own time with a clock on them has faced greater challenges. With that in mind I suggested to allow me to work that night but with the employer leading the project and me assisting. It just made sense especially after considering my experience. I was going to get paid for the time either way which was agreed upon long before my arrival that night but it just didn't make sense to have me just sitting there as if I was some rookie artist.

The night went well even though the final project isn't anything I'd add to the blog (which is also why you don't see it in the Design or Illustration section of this site). But the people were friendly and good to talk to and some of the kids were really interested in the work as they like to draw too which is always good. But the problem came weeks later after various emails, a phone conference call to meet the other members of the company and various other information was passed along.

The contract.

The contract when it finally arrived had the usual protections for the company as well as any client that hires the company. Protections such as information, methods, processes, confidential details etc. Absolutely no protections for the sub contractor. In the creative field specifically, this is where a lot of artists get fucked. If the artist uses their own concepts, creations, methods, information etc for the client, they're not protected. In the contract there isn't protections against the client or company from using original works, information, processes etc for other projects or for direct profit without acknowledging or compensating the artist. When I expressed this concern to the contractor she said I would be given full credit for the work I create but this wasn't stated in the contract. If it's not in the contract then it doesn't have to be honored.

Another example, a lot of companies like to use what's called nigganomics. What nigganomics is, it's when a person or company hires you for one job at a specified rate but then adds on a laundry list of other duties during the current job with the expectation to have this additional work performed at no additional charge. This is standard corporate practice and it's bullshit. Imagine paying Verizon for cell service but during the setup phase you demand they include FIOS internet and cable TV free of charge. Good luck with that. That's nigganomics.

This is seen many times in job postings using language similar to "perform any additional duties that may be required." It's a con job meaning you will be asked to perform duties that are outside of your job description and the employer expects you to do them with no additional compensation awarded to you. This is why so many offices will ask employees to do the jobs of 3 different people but for the same salary. That's also why labeling employees as "Salary" is popular. You can be asked to work 60 hours in a week but only get paid for 40. If you refuse, expect to be fired, because you wouldn't allow the employer to rip you off. Some artists will perform these additional duties without considering the consequences.

If an artist is hired to illustrate a book cover for example but the employer also requests a logo, page layout, web design work and a letter head after the illustration work has begun with the expectation for them to be created free of charge, this is a violation. The contractor/sub contractor should be compensated for each additional request the same as a company would sure as hell charge a client for each additional request made. The artist is allowing him/herself to get ripped off when they perform these extra duties without any additional charge and it sets a precedent that will never work in the contractor's/sub contractor's favor. I knew the owner of an animation studio here in Philadelphia that went out of business because he allowed himself to get ripped off by clients in this way for far too long. If a employer/client won't offer fair terms and a respectable rate, walk out or show them the door. Corporate is a cesspool and the standard business practices used in corporate America demonstrates this time and again. They are not to be trusted.

The other problem with the contract sent to me was salary. Or the lack thereof.

My salary as a sub contractor was to be determined by whatever the client was charged by the contractor. I couldn't accept that under any circumstances because again, this leaves the artist open to get ripped off. A job in March might earn me $25/hour but a job in April might earn me $10/hour even though I'm performing the same duties. If the contractor decides to cut my salary on whim, the contract says she could do that since no fixed rate is set in the contract or agreed upon. How the hell is anyone supposed to survive working like that? Rent isn't going to be $700 in March but $400 in April because my salary got cut. As a contractor, professionals are already giving up so much just trying to work on a daily basis. The contract I was offered couldn't even offer me a specified salary when that is one of the KEY reasons anyone would accept contract work to begin with. Hence, I rejected the contract. It simply was not in my best interest and there isn't any justification or excuse that makes that offer okay. Grimy contracts are not sexy.

There isn't a company in existence that doesn't want to be respected by having their clients pay for its services. But we live in a idiotic reality that says employees don't have the right to expect to be well paid for their work. Corporate America is one of the absolute worse working environments on Earth. Politicians will give a good line about creating jobs, bringing jobs back to American shores but it's all bullshit. How can any lasting employment be created and sustained when outsourcing has been a major problem for the American job market for decades? Companies don't want to build American because the labor isn't cheap on these shores.

This is also where a large portion of American society is a failure. Young people are pushed to go to college en masse to get a degree for the specific purpose of being able to demand a higher salary when joining the workforce. Except companies don't want to pay higher wages for talent. They want to pay less, which is why outsourcing for cheap labor is still extensive and contract hiring is so excessive. Sure companies want the talent, but they don't want to pay for it. Corporate tries to have it both ways, trying to ice skate uphill and that's why corporate is such a hot mess. This is why many job boards currently list positions for Web Designers/Graphic Designers/ Illustrators etc for as low as $10/hour but have the audacity to demand potential hires have a four year degree, professional experience and a corporate portfolio...for $10/hour. It gets worse because too many people will accept being undervalued which sets precedent and like lemmings falling off a cliff, others will follow. These are some dark times, don't let the distractions fool you because as slimy as these hiring practices are, they aren't stopping. It's no mystery as to why former employees are shooting up their old offices.

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