2014 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium Newsroom finalist

Temp Land


Michael Grabell, Lena Groeger, Krista Kjellman Schmidt, Amanda Zamora


The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium Newsroom


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About the Project

Over the past several years, a disturbing, little-noticed trend has taken hold in industrial America. Major companies from Walmart to Bacardi Rum are turning to temporary workers to fill the dirtiest jobs in factories, warehouses and processing plants, making this work one of the fastest growing segments of the economy since the 2008 recession. As Michael Grabell found in his groundbreaking “Temp Land” series, it is also one of the most dangerous.

Grabell’s stories used gritty street-level reporting and analyzed millions of workers’ comp claims to address a question that had stymied academics and federal officials: Were tales of temp workers killed, crushed, and asphyxiated egregious examples, or signs of a larger change in how dangerous work is handled in America?

The answer, according to Grabell’s groundbreaking analysis: Temps are indeed hired for the most dangerous jobs – and even in comparable occupations, they are hurt at as much as six times the rate of regular employees.

The story was brought home online with:

  • A Facebook timeline of the life of a worker killed on his first day on the job
  • A series of Twitter posts that told the story of a day in a temp worker’s life
  • An interactive map showing the United States’ abysmal record compared with temp worker policies from other countries, using data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
  • An edited surveillance video of the accident, which received nearly 1 million views on YouTube, Upworthy and WorldStarHipHop, a site targeted to young African-Americans
  • An interactive allowing readers to scroll between a drawing of one temp agency’s cramped seating arrangement in its minivans and a graphic created by our news apps team

Grabell’s stories stirred immediate action, prompting changes at temp agencies, a joint initiative by the Illinois and federal labor department that has resulted in three investigations so far, and a bill to protect temp workers that has now passed the Assembly in California. Moreover, OSHA has begun using Grabell’s reporting and the video in training.