Work Stories: Part One: Temporary As Needed

I worked for over 7 years for the San Francisco Public Library when I was in my thirties. If jobs were like lovers, working for SFPL was my longest abusive relationship. I was a TEAN, “temporary exempt as needed” non-employee; the analogy equivalent of a part-time “booty call” friend with benefits, not the legitimate girlfriend or wife. During the prime years of my life, I slaved at thankless, dead end jobs, working: in libraries, in catering, at cafes and in retail, my customer service skills are at a PhD doctorate level.

The Bay Area is insanely expensive to live in, it’s second only to NYC in cost of living, but I managed to pay my bills by working 2 part-time jobs, which both took advantage of me. I worked under the table at the catering job and at SFPL I was classified as “on-call” even though I had the same schedule for all 7 years. I wasn’t the only one, the majority of us were temps for decades so the city didn’t have to pay for medical insurance or contribute to an employee retirement plan. When a rare, permanent position opened up, 200+ “on-call” staff would compete for the one job. It was ridiculous. Ironically SFPL promoted all their staff to be permanent, just after I left, of course.

After 7+ years I was ranked #1 on the promotion list but I left SFPL after I had my child. I planned on returning after maternity leave, (but less than three months time off) isn’t enough time. I decided not to return when an unpaid maternity leave request wouldn’t be extended, (I asked for 3 more months off). Permanent employees could get 6 months to a year or more of unpaid leave, but temps had no job security. The bottom line message was that we were devalued and replaceable. It didn’t matter that I had invested over 7 years of my life there, I was disposable.

In European countries both parents get incredible amounts of time to bond with their babies. Michael Moore’s documentary, “Where to Invade Next” was a shocking revelation of how backwards the United States is in their mistreatment of workers and students especially in comparison to advanced countries like Italy, France and Norway. It seems that in America, the harder your duties are, the less you get paid; and the highest paid staff seem to hardly work at all. I remember how certain librarians were at their desks playing computer games or web surfing while the pawns, I mean *pages 😉 did the heavy lifting.

Now I work for another library system, as a full-time, permanent employee but the same “temporary/on-call” loophole is in place here. Things are slowly changing, but not fast enough. Bureaucracy takes an infinite amount of time to do nothing. I think if an employee has worked for over 5-10 years, they should be eligible for a permanent position. It’s an insult to use a worker for decades with no possibility for advancement, under the false guise of temporary.

*Pages are a work classification, they’re the ones who shelve and do the heavy manual labor. Everyone assumes all library staff are librarians but it’s a highly stratified environment, almost militant in it’s status conscious, hierarchy.


  1. It is very sad how so many hard working employees are taken advantage of by being labeled “temporary”.

    All so that their employers don’t have to pay health insurance or contribute to pension plans.

    The almighty dollar is the employers’ sole guiding light.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, being a temp isn’t easy, but being an employee who’s labeled a temp is a form of outright theft in my opinion. CEOs aren’t worth the money they make and neither are celebrities. Upside down society of greed!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I felt sorry for you woman! The US suck for immigrants, non-professionals and the poor. If your parents had migrated to England, France, Germany or Scandinavia, your life could have been way better off due to their amazing social securities. This is of course slowly changing everywhere as there will always be abuser of any great system in place.


    1. I’ve worked in “professional” positions and still has the same treatment. I went to college and was often over qualified for most jobs that I worked. It’s a loophole that was created for US businesses to not pay benefits to their employees by claiming the weren’t employees. Greed rules the world. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true! My husband was retrenched twice by American companies when times were non-idealistic. After making use of people and resources, they just conveniently tossed them aside when no longer useful. Do watch the South Korean movie entitled DEFAULT. IMF caused many to commit suicide.


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