Part-time workers hurt by on-call system
An increasing number of low-wage employees have unpredictable schedules and hours.
The Great Recession changed the American workplace. More and more jobs that used to be full time are now part time, with lower pay and limited or no benefits.
The number of "involuntary" part-time workers -- people who want a full-time job but can't find one or have had their hours cut back by their current employer -- has nearly doubled since 2007. There were 8.1 million involuntary part-time workers in October, versus 4.3 million in October 2007, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (.pdf file).
"Using part-time workers increases flexibility and gives companies an ability to adjust to changing business conditions," said Aparna Mathur, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Unless we see economic conditions improving, I think this trend will continue."
In addition, the nature of part-time work has changed. At many companies, part time means "on call" with no fixed number of hours per week. It's the equivalent of just-in-time inventory for the labor force.
"It's an extremely abusive and unfair practice," said Carrie Gleason, executive director of the Retail Action Project (RAP). "Part-time workers' hours are constantly changing -- and not just weekly, but sometimes on a daily basis."
In a report released last year, RAP interviewed 436 retail workers in New York. Twenty percent of those surveyed said they must always or often be available for "call-in" shifts. More than a third said they were sometimes, often or always sent home early from work.
While extreme flexibility might be good for some businesses, it's rough for employees to deal with constant uncertainty. They've basically become day labor and need to call in every day to find out if they have hours.
"This has created tremendous instability for the retail workforce," Gleason said. "It's difficult to arrange for child care, to go to school or hold down a second job, which so many part-time workers desperately need."
Always juggling your schedule
Akaisa O'Kieffe, a 21-year-old in Brooklyn, N,Y., wants a full-time job but can get only part-time hours at the Manhattan clothing store where she works.
Some weeks she works three days, some weeks only two. She always has a shift on Wednesday, but the other days float. And the schedule doesn't get posted until Friday.
The last-minute scheduling leaves this single mom with unpredictable paychecks and a constant scramble to find child care.
"It's a real pain," she said. "I honestly feel they're taking advantage of us."
It also isn't easy looking for work when the schedule is different from week to week.
"The day you plan to look for a job is always the day they call you in to work, and so you can't do it," O'Kieffe said. "It's ridiculous."
Is this really good for business?
Many companies that could promote part-time workers to full time are not doing it because of the soft economy. With so many people desperate for work, management has the upper hand. If one part-time worker leaves, plenty of others are ready and willing.
Experts point out that just-in-time scheduling can have a downside for companies, too.
Tita Gray, a lecturer in the College of Business Administration at San Diego State University, said part-time workers can be a good thing when a company needs help with a specific project or emergency, but can create real problems if the workers are used simply to reduce costs.
"You have high turnover costs and you don't build employee loyalty," she said. "You have a workforce that for the most part does not care as much about the customer. So you may save money this way, but it's detrimental to your customer base."
Is this the new normal?
John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, the Chicago-based outplacement and career transitioning firm, believes we'll see more of this.
"Companies, especially retailers, are looking for ways to bring in employees as they need them -- to cover the traffic but not get caught with too many people standing around," he said. "They want the ability to be able to staff up or down, depending on what happens."
Challenger said there are now three levels of employment: full time, part time with specific shifts and on call. And, he said, people move between them all the time.
"If you're working as an on-call worker, you're auditioning for a part-time or permanent job," he said. "It's better than an interview for a company. They can see how you work, how you fit in."
Maybe so, but Gleason at RAP sees a darker side to the trend.
"Between being expected to have open availability, waiting by the phone for on-call shifts and being sent home early, retail workers are getting shortchanged by this industry," she said.
More from CNBC.com:
Employers will offer jobs with those strings attached as long as they can get enough workers to fill the slots. If folks decline to accept a position with those requirements they will change.
Remember an employer is looking to buy labor to meet their needs at the price they want to pay. As long as they can buy all the labor they need at the price they want to pay there’s no reason for them to make adjustments to their wages and job requirements.
This is not a new normal, but a SLOW-MOTION CRASH of the underlying economy. This is the consequence of the Federal Reserve Bank telling the world that inflation and spending are what bring prosperity. Those who protest that such principle is horribly wrong, that sound money, productivity and savings are needed are ridiculed as "right wing extremists." President Obama supports inflation and spending. So do Democratic Congressmen and many Republicans, too. Influential columnists like Paul Krugman jump on the bandwagon and try to shout down opposition.
Why does using Fed stimulus to jack up the stock market and the housing market destroy good-paying full time jobs?
1) As the money supply increases, the cost of doing business goes up, just as the cost of living goes up. Business owners react by reducing payroll cost. Replacing full time workers with part time workers reduce costs. Putting part timers on call is a desperate measure, as businesses struggle to survive at all.
2) Stimulus enriches big bankers, making them lazy. Their capital is borrowed from the Fed at 0% interest. Stock price surge is easy money. Treasury bonds and bills bring big interest income even at ultra-low rates because the bankers can borrow huge amounts when there is no interest. The laziness is manifested by reduction in lending to smaller businesses, which means fewer new jobs.
3) Fewer new businesses and more failure of existing businesses means less competition for those still prospering. This means lack of pressure on still-prosperous businesses to pay their employees more.
If you think the situation here is bad now, wait until China stops supporting the U.S. dollar! China has its own problems with bubbles and pollution. It needs to spend much of the $3.66 trillion in dollars it has, not accumulate even more. And the Bank Of China just announced that it won't accumulate more foreign reserves from now on!
Welcome to the "Obama Economy".....
Just another of the many unintended consequences of the f'd up "Obama-Don't Care" Act.
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