Temporary Work, Lasting Harm
He was born Lawrence Daquan Davis, but everyone who knew him called him Day. His mother, Tonya Washington, was 14 when she gave birth to him in Smithfield, N.C., later moving to Jacksonville. She struggled to make ends meet, working at day cares and dollar stores, fast-food chains and supermarkets. But Washington and her family worked hard to raise him right.
“You see all these little boys walking around with the sagging pants and gold in their mouths,” Washington said. “I have to pat myself on the back, because that wasn’t my baby.”
Davis graduated from the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy, a military-style school in Georgia. He then enrolled in Job Corps, a federal training program for low-income youth, where he studied to be a medical assistant.
It was there that he met Alicia Lloyd, an Atlanta student who quickly became his girlfriend. In photographs, they can be seen making each other laugh, Davis resting his head on her shoulder, sticking out his tongue or the two of them pouting their lips. He called her “Lil Bit.” They stayed up talking on the phone and texting until one of them fell asleep.
“Day was Alicia’s Prince Charming,” said their friend Gio’Vanni Hickerson. “I never seen them apart. One day, you looked up and they were together like they’ve been together forever. You just look up and they were lovey-dovey, booey-booey.”
Davis obsessed over video games such as “Call of Duty” and “Dragon Ball Z” and lived his life on social media. On his birthday, he posted on Facebook, thanking his mother for giving birth to him. He was a playful older brother, sneaking up behind his sister and putting underwear on her head, then snapping a photo and posting it on Instagram. “My sister wit underwear on her head,” he wrote, “u can call her captain underpants.”
Then, one day, Lloyd felt sick and went to the doctor. She was pregnant.
According to those who knew him, Davis was a head-over-heels father-to-be. He would surprise his fiancee in class with pickles and cheese fries.
“We were going to get a house together,” Lloyd said. “He wanted to do the whole Army thing. We were going to have two children. That’s all, you know, the whole thing that you do when you’re married. You know the feeling.”
Lloyd was eight months pregnant when she woke up one morning and felt that something wasn’t right. There was blood. Her placenta had ruptured. Doctors ran some tests.
But the baby had no heartbeat.
Davis held Lloyd’s hand as they waited for her to deliver the stillborn baby girl. They named her A’lisa Kaniya Davis and buried her 11 days later.
“He was really hurt about it – like really hurt,” said his sister, Nia, 17. “None of the funerals we’d ever been to had he ever cried that hard before.”
A’lisa’s death seemed to focus him. “He was different after that,” said his brother, Jojo, 15. “He wanted to work and move out with his girlfriend and settle down.”
Davis wanted to go into the military, but he struggled with math and couldn’t pass the test. So after failing again in August 2012, and with his mother out of work, Davis took the path of many young people on Jacksonville’s Northside, and went to the temp agencies.
The Northside is a neighborhood of modest stucco homes, discount clothing stores and garden apartment complexes offering $535-a-month move-in specials. It’s a place where every other store seems to be buying gold, and where one of the most prevalent jobs appears to be human sign.
Davis became part of what labor economists say is a national trend. Increasingly, young men and women with high school diplomas and vocational training find they can’t get a factory or warehouse job without first going through a temp agency.
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The very nature of temp work increases the risk of injury. Temps are often working in a new environment, operating machines or handling tasks they don’t have experience with and using muscles they might not normally use.
Labor Department data shows that nationwide, a large number of injuries occur within the first three months of work. Many temp assignments don’t last that long. Indeed, temp worker claimants had far shorter tenures on average than regular workers who filed claims, according to ProPublica’s analysis of workers’ comp records. Many temps are perpetually new on the job.
But in interviews, dozens of temp workers across the country said it was a near-daily experience for them to see employers cutting corners on training and equipment.
Read more about Samir in the Voices of Worker Safety»
Their observations are mirrored in OSHA investigation records. OSHA found that inadequate training was a major factor in the death of Samir Storey, a 39-year-old father of three who suffocated from hydrogen sulfide gas on his first day on the job at Resolute Forest Products, one of the largest paper and pulp producers in North America.
Every nine months, Resolute shuts down part of its South Carolina paper mill for several days to clean a 78.5-foot-tall tank used in the power and utilities area of the plant. In January 2013, Resolute hired a subcontractor, Industrial Piping, to do the job. But Industrial Piping didn’t have its workers do the job. Instead, it hired temp laborers from Tradesmen International.
Storey was one of those temps, and he was inside the tank suspended from a harness at about 1:21 a.m. when a toxic vapor seeped into the tank. OSHA found that Resolute failed to inform Industrial Piping of proper procedures and that Industrial Piping had failed to effectively train the temp workers in using respirators and working in confined spaces. Jermel Storey, Samir’s cousin, who was also working at the plant that night, said at a press conference after the accident that the training was cursory and that the instructor had given them the answers to the safety test.