21-year-old Lawrence Dayquan “Day” Davis’ first day of work was his last. After graduating from university, where he studied to be a medical assistant, Day desperately sought work, not only in his area of expertise, but any work he could possibly find and yet he found nothing. Finally, Day found a temporary work agency that set him up with a warehouse clerk “temp” job at Bacardi Bottling Corp. On Aug. 16, 2012, he was called in at 2:45 p.m. for a 10-minute orientation, in which he watched a short safety and training video, and then was sent into the factory for his 3 p.m. shift. Not even 90 minutes into his first shift, Davis was cleaning glass from under the hoist of a palletizing machine, which stacks cases of Bacardi’s rum, when another employee restarted the palletizer, which consequently crushed Day Davis to death.
Four years later, Dave Desario and David Garcia share his story with the world in their film, “A Day’s Work,” in the hopes of changing the way America treats the dangers of temporary employment. On Tuesday, Nov. 1, Union welcomed Desario for a special viewing of “A Day’s Work” followed by a Q&A session. Dave Desario, a self-described “pissed off ex-temp worker” started out by discussing the very strong likeness between himself and the audience he faced. He attended a small liberal arts college not too long ago, and confessed with a heavy heart that he too had very unrealistic expectations about the world and employment upon graduating. “I thought I was going to graduate and everyone would want to hire me,” he said woefully. He included throughout this speech that despite his very limited experience with filmmaking, he believed he had created something amazing, and we could too. He emphasized, both before and after the viewing, that we can create something just as powerful if we put our minds to it. It was exceedingly surprising that Desario humbly claimed to be so inexperienced; the quality of “A Day’s Work” was simply stunning. For a budget of only $30,000, the film is exceptionally professional.
The technical aspects were especially impressive. J-cuts (when audio begins before the transition into the next scene) are frequently used to increase the dramatic flair and the background music is as ominous as the “Stranger Things” theme. The interspersed news clips reveal the hypocrisy and chaos caused by temporary employment agencies. The helter-skelter of the media paired with the vigorous beat of the music creates a tone similar to a political protest.
“A Day’s Work” clocks in at around 56 minutes, an appropriate length for an independent documentary. The story follows a family of four; a strong but broken portrait of Day Davis’s surviving loved ones. Antonia (Nia) Washington is Day’s 17-year- old sister and closest confidant. She opens with sentimental narration amidst gorgeous sunlit cinematography of her mother, Tonya Washington, caressing the petals of dead roses and her younger brothers, Jojo and Patrick, running and playing basketball. There is a noteworthy rhythm in the transitions between these images.
Nia’s maturity is bewildering. She speaks with all the grace and charm of a princess. Her relationship with her brother was nothing short of absolute devotion. “Day was a father figure,” says Nia, “He was always there for me. I talked to him about everything.”
Here are the facts: presently, 1 in 6 jobs are temp jobs and 3 million Americans work through a temp agency on any given work day. The term “temp” has nothing to do with the period of employment anymore, but rather the nature of the employment/employee relationship. When working for a temp agency, because the company one is sent to does not have them on their payroll or insurance, they claim no responsibility for anything that goes wrong in their employment. The more workers are injured on the job, the higher the company’s insurance premiums will be. By hiring temp laborers for risky jobs, many factories and manufacturers are able to avoid these costs.
Temp workers must also often pay more for health insurance and do not receive benefits from the company they are performing labor for. The company that’s using a worker’s labor does not technically employ said worker. Temp workers are trained to cut corners because to their employers, safety is not a priority. Because of this willful disregard, temporary workers are far more likely to be seriously injured, or even killed on the job.
Desario and Garcia are aware that great temp agencies do exist, and properly train and prepare many people. Thus, they showed an interview that gave a devil’s advocate perspective, so not to attack all temporary employment agencies. Although the intentions here were honorable, the audience was slightly thrown off course when suddenly told that not all temp agencies are malevolent companies. “It was slightly counter-productive,” says one audience member, “You’re given one idea, and you start to agree with it, but then they suddenly retract what they previous had been supporting. It was confusing.” Of course “A Day’s Work” was hardly flawless. There was some superfluous repetition of images, like Day’s baby pictures. As it is dedicated to the Washington/Davis family, the images themselves are welcomed. However, showing them more than once gave the impression that the creators simply did not have enough material.
The use of interspersed news clips and interviews, synchronized with the dynamic music were like sirens. Every fifteen minutes or so, they’d reappear. One brilliant montage was enough, and that redundancy takes away from the power of the argument.
Despite those miniscule defects, “A Days Work” is a top-notch documentary. The question is, what can we do as the audience to help the cause? “We need a silver bullet solution,” Desario proclaimed. The treatment of temp employees has been the industry’s best well kept secret up until the filming of this documentary. Tonya Washington received $250,000 in a settlement case for her son Day, but temp agencies still send hundreds of staff workers to Bacardi Bottling Corp. every week.
Union’s own Jim De Seve, Lecturer in Film Studies and Filmmaker in Residence, suggested setting up screenings for legislators and getting the word out amongst the American population. Only then will the government start to think about taking steps to improve the quality of training and safety measurements for those involved with temporary employment.