Senior Tyler Neyhart gets paid between $10 and $15 an hour to perform one of the dullest tasks imaginable: waiting in line.
“I’ve waited in line for some of the most mundane things, like a hearing on the drug policy of Michigan,” Neyhart said.
Neyhart works as an independent contractor for J.E. Holdings, one of the several place-holding services in D.C. that hires people to wait in line for lobbyists, companies and lawyers who want to get into specific congressional committee hearings.
Placeholders stand in line outside for hours, mostly overnight, to assure a seat for their clients. While congressional committee meetings are free and open to the public, seating is limited and certain D.C. lobbyists and companies have interests in the issues congressmen address.
Neyhart said his last job was for the American Medical Association; he typically works for lobbyist groups who are desperate to influence the decisions made by congressional committees.
“We get everything from individuals to big companies who use our service,” J. E. Holdings co-owner Liz Kaufman said. “It depends on who wants to get into these hearings and how badly they want to go.”
J.E. Holdings charges up to $40 an hour for each placeholder needed to assure a lobbyist’s seat. Placeholders are usually asked to wait for a few hours, typically starting at 5 a.m. for a hearing scheduled at 10 a.m. Sometimes, placeholders will be asked to get in line a day or two in advance depending on seat demand and the hearing’s importance.
“For a lot of lobbyists, lawyers and other professionals their time is worth a lot,” Kaufman said. “They would rather pay someone to hold their space in line.”
Neyhart has no complaints about the job responsibilities; he sees them as pretty relaxed, he said.
“It’s not hard. You just sit outside and sleep,” he said. “I do my homework and get to talk to a lot of interesting, friendly people. I’ve had a lot of really good conversations.”
While the job used to appeal primarily to students when it was popular in the 1990s, Neyhart said he meets many older people while waiting on line who are eager to share their life experiences with a young college student.
“There are not as many college students that do it anymore,” he said. “You get a lot of retired, older people, or the homeless and the unemployed. It’s independent work, so there are no ties and you only work when you can.”
Kaufman said the hours are very flexible and that few skills are needed to stand in line; getting hired is relatively easy, she added.
“You’re on call, so you don’t have a set schedule,” she said. “The job is not complex at all so the main things are punctuality, reliability and being able to keep strange hours. Sometimes we have a job that starts at 3 or 4 in the morning and you have to make sure you can get to Capitol Hill.”
Neyhart, who applied for the job after reading an advertisement in a newspaper, said the task appealed to him because it suits his schedule. Between his classes and graduate school applications, he said he would never be able to keep a typical job.
“It’s the perfect job for a student if you’re looking for a ‘not normal’ job,” he said. “I can’t open my schedule to a 9 to 5 job.”
“It’s good for people who have flexible schedules,” Kaufman added. “It works nicely as a college job because you are working mornings most of the time and you can read or do work while you’re waiting in line.”
The job’s only downfall, Neyhart said, is its unreliability as a source of income. Since the services only operate when Congress is in session, there can be weeks without a hearing to wait in line for. Congress is currently adjourned because of the upcoming election.
“I worked four times last week,” he said. “But this week there was no work.”
Kaufman, a GW alumna, can relate, though she remembered working longer hours. A placeholder as a student in the 1990s, she remembers running to be first in line for a hearing and sometimes having to wait for days outside a House of Representatives office building.
“It’s very few and far between that something that important will come up,” she said. “Most often these things are only four or five hours long.”