The latest tripe from the Republican Party attempts to distract from its purposeful obstruction of all initiatives or legislation designed to create new jobs, by accusing the Obama Administration of fostering a “part-time” economy.
In reality the prevalence of “part-time only” jobs arising from the residue of the Bush Recession reflects the gradual realization by corporate America that it no longer needs to hew to the pretense of actually caring about workers and can, with impunity, impose hiring policies designed solely to fatten its bottom line.
An expanded field of semi-skilled workers constantly warned against unionizing, a population of nervous and insecure skilled workers deathly afraid of losing their health care and livelihoods, and the propagation of anti-union legislation funded by right-wing think tanks and their Republican tools in state legislatures have all led to an atmosphere of passive acquiescence to predatory hiring practices.
This has little or nothing to do with the Administration and much to do with a relatively new ethic of corporate greed and indifference run amok. It implicates businesses and corporations at every level, but it is particularly visible in retail and service industries.
About 27.4 million Americans work part time. The number of those part-timers who would prefer to work full time has nearly doubled since 2007, to 7.5 million. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 47 percent of part-time hourly workers ages 26 to 32 receive a week or less of advance notice for their schedule.In a study of the data, two University of Chicago professors found that employers dictated the work schedules for about half of young adults, without their input. For part-time workers, schedules on average fluctuated from 17 to 28 hours a week.
Today’s New York Times shines a light on the brutish “take-it-or-leave-it” nastiness of certain employers seeking to boost their profits by juggling part-time workers and creating institutional obstacles for them to attain full-time jobs.
The Times solicited and received hundreds of reader comments in reaction to this article detailing efforts by a few states and municipalities to curb exploitation of part-time workers by regulating “on-call” and other abusive but widespread practices which throw peoples’ lives into turmoil. Representative George Miller from California also plans to introduce legislation at the Federal level this summer to rein in such practices. Of course, those efforts will go nowhere due to solid Republican opposition in Congress.
These are the types of stories the Times heard:
A worker at an apparel store at Woodbury Common, an outlet mall north of New York City, said that even though some part-time employees clamored for more hours, the store had hired more part-timers and cut many workers’ hours to 10 a week from 20.As soon as a nurse in Illinois arrived for her scheduled 3-to-11 p.m. shift one Christmas Day, hospital officials told her to go home because the patient “census” was low. They also ordered her to remain on call for the next four hours — all unpaid.
An employee at a specialty store in California said his 25-hour-a-week job with wildly fluctuating hours wasn’t enough to live on. But when he asked the store to schedule him between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. so he could find a second job, the store cut him to 12 hours a week.
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Fatimah Muhammad said that at the Joe Fresh clothing store where she works in Manhattan, some weeks she was scheduled to work just one day but was on call for four days — meaning she had to call the store each morning to see whether it needed her to work that day.“I felt kind of stuck. I couldn’t make plans,” said Ms. Muhammad, who said she was now assigned 25 hours a week
Of course, not all business owners have signed on to these practices. One reader who ran a business was “baffled” why Fortune 500 companies plotted out such varying schedules for their employees, noting that predictability and uniformity were key to the his own success. The fact that such companies have made a careful, accountant-vetted cost benefit calculation in establishing these policies seems to have escaped him. The more common attitude was expressed by another reader:
“How is it so many, and Obama, believe that workers have the right to tell their employer what hours they will work?” she added. “I’m thinking many here need to go to Europe or some other country. See how that works for you. Our government has no right to dictate, only to protect workers from abuse, and part-time is not abuse.”
It’s interesting how this reader equates workers demanding fair treatment with “Obama.” Business groups, whose interests are represented largely by the Republican Party, are quoted in both Times articles as uniformly opposing regulatory efforts to introduce stability and uniformity into part-time employee scheduling, citing seasonal issues affecting certain businesses, and the impact of the Bush Recession (although they don’t call it that). But the main objection, delivered in language that sounds like something written by the Republican National Committee, appears tied to maximizing company profits at the expense of individual workers:
Corporate groups protest that such measures undercut efficiency and profits. “The hyper-regulation of the workplace by government isn’t conducive to a positive business climate,” said Scott DeFife, an executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association. “The more complications that government creates for operating a business, the less likely we’ll see a positive business environment that’s good for the economy and increasing jobs.”
One reader aptly describes the Catch-22 situation of being unable to find regular full-time work and thus forced to jump through the hoops of a company’s part-time regime:
A middle-aged New Yorker who lost his teaching job of two decades because of a budget squeeze in his school district said he had applied for retail jobs and was shocked by what he found.“You had to be available every minute of every day, knowing you would be scheduled for no more than 29 hours per week and knowing there would be no normalcy to your schedule,” he wrote. “I told the person I would like to be scheduled for the same days every week so I could try to get another job to try to make ends meet. She immediately said, ‘Well, that will end our conversation right here. You have to be available every day for us.’
The Times article from earlier this week detailed some of the local efforts being introduced to combat these practices:
Vermont and San Francisco have adopted laws giving workers the right to request flexible or predictable schedules to make it easier to take care of children or aging parents. Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller, is pressing the City Council to take up such legislation. And last month, President Obama ordered federal agencies to give the “right to request” to two million federal workers.
A national campaign grounded in part by organized labor is also beginning to take shape:
A national campaign — the Fair Workweek Initiative — is pushing for legislation to restrict these practices in places including Milwaukee, New York and Santa Clara, Calif. The effort includes the National Women’s Law Center, the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Retail Action Project, a New York workers’ group.“Too many workers are working either too many or too few hours in an economy that expects us to be available 24/7,” said Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative and an organizer at the Center for Popular Democracy, a national advocacy group. “It’s gotten to the point where workers, especially women workers, are saying, ‘We need a voice in how much and when we work.’ ”
In the meantime, the Republican Party will continue to do as much as it can to make the “part-time economy” a permanent fixture of American life.