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Have you ever actually worked two full time jobs at once? I have, lately.

It works like this: go in at 9AM to job one, get off at 5:30PM, show up at job two at 8PM and work til 5AM. Sleep an hour or two in between. Ready, set, sleep! Rinse and repeat. One job's 'weekend' is on Tues and Weds, the other on Sat and Sun, which allows me to catch up on sleep. A day where I only have to work one shift is the closest thing to a day off. I got these jobs originally because 1) I liked the company, and 2) free lance writers get no healthcare insurance.

Both these companies are doing fantastic, they really are wonderful places to work and they actually care about their customers and employees. They both have great benefits, comprehensive healthcare insurance, paid time off, 401-k with generous matching, extra pay for working holidays, one even has a killer cafeteria plan and a sweet tuition reimbursement program. Lucky me!

There's just one problem with all that: I don't work for those companies. Like almost all my co-workers at both jobs, I'm a temp. So none of these benefits are available to us and they never will be as long as we are temps.

Forget about health insurance or vacation days. In the temp contracts I had to sign, if I'm late by more than five minutes three times over the life of the gig, and missing a day counts the same as being five minutes late, not only am I summarily fired, I can never work for that employment agency again. Doesn't matter if I'm rear-ended by a drunk cop on the way to work, doesn't matter if I have a note from a brain surgeon and 200 fresh sutures lacing through a shaved scalp.

One contract is open ended, the other is three months to indefinite. Which means, despite any migraine headaches or face-melting toothaches, or stomach virus or flu, or injuries, or anything, you better not miss a minute of work if it can possibly be avoided. You don't know how long this is going to go on, and you might need those tardies or missed days later. Needless to say, with sick people coming to work, the environments are like walking germ cultures. Take your vitamin C!

Well, all that aside, working two, 40 hour a week contract jobs must at least result in a nice pay check, surely enough to buy my own health insurance or take care of medical bills or car repairs? And, since both jobs were advertised as temp to hire positions, assuming the client-employer likes the test drive they're getting of moi, there is at least the prospect of full-time benefits down the road, right?  Alas, total monthly take home pay from both jobs is less than $2500 a month. And no one at either the agency or the client companies can give a straight answer as to permanent employment. They can't even tell us if and when the job ends to allow us to plan ahead or start looking for a replacement job. They do demand we give them two weeks notice though or we can never work for the temp agency again.

We could all be called into a meeting at the end of the shift[s] tomorrow, told to hand in our badges, escorted off the premises, and find ourselves standing in the parking lot unemployed. And because they're temp contract jobs there will be no unemployment insurance or COBRA, no matter how long the contract lasts. In fairness to the temp agency -- or rather to the lower level managers I deal with who likewise work insane hours for pretty spotty pay -- and the client companies, my hunch is they don't know how long they'll need us and they're playing it by ear day-to-day. That remains only a hunch, because the people who actually make this policy and know the answer aren't volunteering the info, and they are way off limits to the likes of us lowly tempies.

One consequence of working all those hours is you can't do much of anything else. Relationships, hobbies, gym, good luck! Just seeing a doctor, shopping for groceries or cooking dinner, takes planning. You end up eating fast food and 7-11 chow. About the only leisure activity I have time for is an occasional TV show or news program, and most of those long distance media folks who now make up what passes for my friends, try as they might, probably can't relate to my plight and by extension the plight of millions of other Americans. Because most everyone you see on TV is a millionaire.

Even when a celebrity millionaire works crazy hours like me, they're not subjected to the endless hassles working class people have to put up with. They don't have to fight rush hour traffic terrified of being five minutes late, the limo or cab driver worries about that. They don't have to queue up in crowded airports, the charter jet whisks them to and fro. They don't have to give up holidays, unless they want to, and for all that they get weeks and weeks of vacation and princely pay checks negotiated by the best agents in the business.

People wonder why the Michael Dell's and Oprah Winfrey's of the world don't retire? Their 16 hour day ain't like our 16 hour day! When you are the mega-successful zillionaire in the family or on screen, and you are late through no fault of your own, you better believe the rest of the cast, and your friends and family, will happily wait for you and greet you sympathetically and joyously when you deign to show up. You won't arrive late to find your siblings or buddies glaring at you, or open up an email where a long time friend tears into you for not being at their house for a football game party, and you sure as shit won't arrive a few minutes late at work to find a 26 year-old supe holding a juvenile tardy form for you to sign as part of your write up as if you are late for ninth grade biology. Your vacation are frequent and fabulous.

But for the millions like me, lucky enough to have two temp jobs, there are no vacations. Not ever. Not one single day. Just stealing an hour to visit friends, going to a wedding or a funeral, or showing up for routine family functions is pretty much impossible. Even if they are scheduled during a rare off work time slot, all I want to do in the little free time available is sleep. I'm not saying this to complain, because as someone with no kids to worry about I honestly don't mind all that much: but just to put a fine point on it, I'll work 16 hours on Christmas Eve and Day and on New Year's Eve and Day, this year, just as I did on Thanksgiving, and I'll do it for regular pay with no over time since it's split between two jobs. Does that count as part of the War on Christmas? I'm guessing Fox News won't be too perturbed over it.

Speaking of which, sleep deprivation is dangerous for anyone near me; I nodded off in the parking lot of a convenience store on the way home from job two at 5AM the other day, only to be awakened 15 mins later by a sheriff rapping on my window (And of course subjected to an obligatory sobriety check and car search that robbed me of another half hour of precious time while three deputies went through every inch of my car and I stood shivering and exhausted in the freezing cold as part of the lawful detention). If that had happened two minutes before or two minutes later, when I was on the freeway behind the wheel of a ton of cold, hard Detroit steel going 70 mph through intersections, it could have resulted in one hell of a car wreck. Incidentally, if you're a jogger or a bike rider on my work-home routes, you may not know it, but I'm a deadly threat to you every single day.

Speaking of threats, are you an hourly worker or lower level manager? Then I'm also a threat to your job. If it involves talking on the phone or chatting online with customers, don't even kid yourself about how indispensable you are. Because, with 15 years of experience as a portfolio manager and now years of hands on experience on sites like this one, I absolutely fucking promise you I can learn to do it as fast and as well as you can, if not faster, no matter how tedious or convoluted it may be. And I'm way, way cheaper. I've already been tapped at both jobs to coach fellow temps because of what they call my "blazing speed and accuracy". Why would they keep using you when they can have kick ass temps like me for way less?

So you can imagine, when I hear my millionaire TV friends, mostly DC gasbags of either the literary or political species, explaining that rich people deserve more tax breaks at my expense because they work harder and take more risk than I do, I get more than a little pissed off. When I hear them whining they couldn't get the votes or sell it to the American people, most of whom are like me and not millionaires like them, I get pissed off. When I can't help but note the WH didn't even try to sell HCR or Finreg or tax breaks with anything approaching the intensity they sold themselves during the 2008 election season, despite having almost two full years to do so on the latter, and despite already having the people on their side acoss the board, I get fucking pissed off.

The idea that We the People care that much about Paris Hilton getting tax breaks, or that she works harder than we do, is absurd if we all had one real white-collar cushy job job that paid a living wage, let alone 80 hours a week of hourly temp work. But what really worries me is this is unsustainable for most people. I don't have kids or debt, but a lot of people do, and they're trapped and losing ground rapidly. So, if this keeps up, and if this temp status becomes standard employment practice in America, it's just a matter of time before millions of families are starving and dying -- and probably fighting -- in the once middle-class decaying streets.

Update: BTW, guys, I don't mean this as a whiner Woe is Me diary. It's not that bad, one of these jobs is one of the most fun -- if low paying hourly - jobs I've ever had, plus I can quit at least one and maybe both whenever I want and limp by for awhile as long as I remain healthy and uninjured. It's meant as an illustration of what so many people who have kids and have ambition are having to put up with, and the shitty choice they have between hardship bordering on poverty w/no health insurance, and being homeless. I simply don't know how they're getting by.

Originally posted to DarkSyde on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 08:13 PM PST.

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