Originally published by NPR's "The Diane Rehm Show"
August 7, 2014
PHOTO BY JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
The number of people working part-time who would rather work full-time is almost double what it was seven years ago at 7 million people. Despite signs of economic recovery, many businesses say they are still struggling and depend on part-time workers, especially those who work on-call. New federal data show that almost half of all part-time workers under age thirty-two work unpredictable hours, leaving them with reduced paychecks and scrambling for child-care. A discussion about the latest trends in part-time work and the push for new laws that protect employees.
- Aparna Mathur resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
- Rep. Rosa DeLauro U.S. Congresswoman, representing Connecticut's 3rd district; co-chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
- Susan Lambert associate professor, School of Social Service Administration, The University of Chicago.
- Carrie Gleason director, Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy.
MS. DIANE REHM Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Despite signs of a recovering economy, many business owners say they rely on part-time workers, especially those who work on-call. But many who work on predictable shifts say their lives are upended and paychecks reduced. With me here to talk about new trends in part-time work and proposed remedies, Carrie Gleason with the Fair Work Week Initiative and Aparna Mathur at the American Enterprise Institute.
MS. DIANE REHM Joining me from a studio in Chicago, Susan Lambert at the University of Chicago. I look forward to your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. APARNA MATHUR Thank you for having us.
MS. CARRIE GLEASON Thank you for having us, Diane.
MS. SUSAN LAMBERT Good morning.
REHM Hello. And first to you, Susan Lambert, during the recession, we had a great many people who could only get part-time jobs. Now, even though the economy seems to be tilting upwards again, people are still only able to get part-time jobs when they'd rather be working full-time. Why is that? Why are the full-time jobs not there?
LAMBERT Well, these trends started well before the recent economic down turn. What we can see in labor market data is that they started as early as the 1970s and have grown since then. And so the, you know, the recent economic down turn was, you know, kind of put a fire underneath those trends that were already in process. And so what we see is that we've just had this slow climb in part-time employment with an enormous surge at the end.
LAMBERT And so what we see is that historically, and when I mean historically, I mean between the 1970s and 1980s, about 15 to 16 percent of workers in our wage and salaried workforce worked 35 -- fewer than 35 hours a week, which is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as part-time. That's up to 20 percent now. Among hourly workers, it's 30 percent and, of course, in some industries, it's much higher, such as in retail. Overall, it's 37 percent.
LAMBERT But these trends, I really want to emphasize that, were before the economic down turn and before the Affordable Care Act.
REHM And Aparna Mathur, is it true that there are many employees who are happy with part-time work?
MATHUR Well, if you look at surveys of workers who get part-time jobs, we can divide part-time workers into two types. There are the workers who are voluntarily employed part-time, who prefer to work part-time jobs because they either are attending school or they have medical reasons or they have childcare responsibilities and there are workers who are involuntarily part-time employed.
MATHUR And in the current recession, we have seen an increase in the ration of the involuntary part-time to the voluntary part-time, but I would argue that there are, you know, within part-time workers, about 40 percent say that they prefer to have flexible work schedules because of all of these reasons. So we do see voluntary part-time work going up.
MATHUR We do see people preferring flexible work schedules within part-time workers as well.
REHM But, Carrie Gleason, I gather the trend of more part-time is also more on-call workers and that makes a big difference.
GLEASON It's true. Part-time workers, based on the research that Susan has done, I'll let her speak more to the actual trends, part-time workers are experiencing more volatile schedules and so the nature of part-time work has changed. While many women, students, want to work part-time, they're not able to access quality part-time work.
GLEASON In retail, some studies have shown that part-time workers earn a third less per hour than their full-time counterparts in addition to not having access to opportunities to advance, benefits, you know, and voice in their schedules.
REHM So is it true that more and more employers wish to have part-time on-call workers than to have full-time workers who are gonna make more money and for whom they need to pay a special medical health coverage and the like?
GLEASON It's true. Many employers are starting to move to large part-time work forces, having them receive last-minute hours, such as on-call shifts, and what's resulting is that there's a deficit in access to quality stable employment.
REHM Now, Susan, I gather, the study that Carrie just referred to, you did a study of federal labor data and you found that almost half of younger part-time workers have totally unpredictable schedules. Tell me about that.
LAMBERT Well, the data are from a very well respected data set that the Bureau of Labor Statistics runs, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. And so these are young adults in the labor market, between 26 and 32 years old. And among the part-time workers -- so this would be a nationally representative sample. Among hourly workers, about 47 percent say that they know their work schedule one week or less in advance.
LAMBERT They report hour fluctuation -- 83 percent of them saw hour fluctuations in the last month and they varied, on average, by 87 percent, compared to their usual hours. So we just saw these huge fluctuations in hours. And an important thing, it's only -- about 40 percent of them say that their employer sets their schedule and they have no input at all into the starting and ending times.
REHM And, of course, I would think that reduces their -- what they can count on in terms of money from week to week.
LAMBERT Absolutely, especially for people paid by the hour, of course, because what you earn is a direct function of your wages and the number of hours that you work.
REHM So, Carrie, give me sort of a hypothetical of a young person, say, working in retail and what happens to him or her?
GLEASON So, you know, I can tell the story of a worker who is employed at Wal-mart. Tiffany Beroid has been a worker whose story has been told often. And, you know, she's a mom. She was also a student. She had requested to Wal-mart to make a scheduling accommodation so that she could participate in school and instead, she saw her hours cut.
GLEASON And that's why the Schedules at Work Act is so important, that when part-time workers ask for these flexible work arrangements, all too often, you know, they're being punished for needing these really reasonable scheduling accommodations. And what's happening, you know, adding school combined with Tiffany's also a mother, when you're working part-time and on a schedule that changes all the time, it's hard to participate in formal childcare options.
REHM So are there any rules in place governing part-time workers now?
GLEASON There's very few policy protections that govern work hours and so across the board, what we're finding is that, you know, the nature of work has changed, but our public policies are out-dated and that's what we're seeing across the board is a movement, across the country, really, to say we need new protections around the hours that we work, whether it's, you know, cell phones that tether us to our job or for hourly workers, the need to have some kind of stability and voice in their schedules.
REHM But at the same time, Aparna, you have employers who may need to have more flexibility in whom they hire and for how long.
MATHUR Absolutely, Diane. I mean, if you look at the reasons why employers go for these flexible or on-call workers or shift workers, a big reason is that they need the flexibility. We're in an economy which is not -- which is experiencing a weak recovery. I mean, we're still seeing business investment is down. Consumer spending on durables is down.
MATHUR You know, employers are still making decisions about how much they anticipate in terms of forecasting demand. So we need to have employees that they can hire on-call who, if they experience peaks in demand, they can get more workers to come in. If they experience a reduction in demand, they can get fewer, you know, of these on-call workers. So I would suggest that, you know, these are economic conditions driving this demand for shift workers, for on-call workers.
REHM But how would you respond to the concerns of the employees in the face of need for childcare and need for other needs for...
MATHUR I assume that a lot of this bargaining happens voluntarily. I am sure there are cases where, you know, the employers have gone against employees who have demanded these more flexible schedules, but I would argue that a lot of it down happen voluntarily. We see surveys of employees who say, you know, they want more flexibility. They get that flexibility to meet childcare needs, to meet medical needs.
MATHUR And so, you know, a lot of these happen through voluntary bargaining and we don't need to mandate and regulate these arrangements.
REHM Susan Lambert.
LAMBERT I study firms and workers in firms and a lot of this is absolutely involuntary, especially in low level hourly jobs. I think one of the things we have to realize is that there's a big difference in the quality of jobs at the top of the labor force and the bottom of the labor force and variation in work hours will be instability for people at the bottom and not really flexibility.
REHM All right. We'll take a short break here. That was Susan Lambert. She is that the University of Chicago. We're talking about conditions for part-time workers. Stay with us.
REHM And welcome back. We're talking about basically a changing economy, where you've got a growth in part-time workers. As one of our guests, Susan Lambert at the University of Chicago, mentioned earlier this is not a brand-new phenomenon. It's been going on since the '70s. However, you heard two directly opposing statements, the first from Aparna Mathur, who is with the American Enterprise Institute, saying that much of this part-time work is done voluntarily.
REHM The house imposed are agreed to voluntarily, whereas Susan Lambert said the opposite, that they are imposed. Aparna, I want to give you a chance to respond.
MATHUR Thanks, Diane. I'm going to cite a survey that was done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you know, which provides the same data that Susan is using. And according to the BLS survey, you know, they focused specifically on part-time workers and they asked them, you know, why do you opt for flexible work schedules? And the reason they're able to opt for and get flexible schedules and, you know, 40 percent said that we want to do it because we're in school.
MATHUR You know, we want to study. We have a day job -- day sort of schooling responsibilities. Another 30 percent said it's the nature of the job and we are ready to do it. And, you know, again, these are voluntary arrangements between the employer and the employee. And, you know, another 9 to 10 percent said it's child care and family responsibilities. So, you have survey data which suggests that these are voluntary arrangements that are being made between the employer and the employee.
REHM But now, Carrie, what about the people who say they want to work full time and have only part-time jobs?
GLEASON So, you know, I also would like to respond to Aparna. The truth is is that, you know, the data shows that students actually experience extreme fluctuations in their hours and don't have input into their schedule. So there's -- when we're talking about flexibility, we can't use the term, you know, in the same way. You know, that employers want to have all the say in the schedules and are giving workers opportunity to have a voice in the kind of accommodations that they need.
GLEASONAnd so, that's one of the policy solutions that we're pushing for with the Schedules That Work Act is that employers have to engage in an interactive process that we all deserve a say in our schedules in some kind of voice to accommodate our school schedules or child care needs.
REHM So what you're saying is that you believe for a good many employees who are working part-time that it's not out of choice, but it's because they're told that they can only have part-time jobs, number one. And number two, within that part-time job, they have very little say about their own schedules.
GLEASON Yeah. I mean, what we're seeing is actual companies have policies that say if you reduce your availability, you cannot access full-time work. And this is written policy in many companies. And so, you know, in terms of the policy solutions, there's a lot out there that we can do. And we're not asking to -- we're just looking to do a simple baseline around the hours that we work to ensure that there's an even playing field for all businesses.
GLEASON There's a lot of employers that really have model workplace flexibility practices. But far too many firms are really looking to cut costs around work hours. And so, if I may just highlight some of the policy solutions out there.
GLEASON In the Federal Schedules That Work Act that was just introduced, there is the right to request and receive scheduling accommodations which I already mentioned as well as advanced notification of schedules. Many employers already do provide three or four weeks advanced notice. The federal bill is simply saying we should offer two weeks advanced notice as well as inform workers of the minimum amount that they could expect to work. I think when we think about budgeting, that's a reasonable need that will keep families...
REHM All right, stop right there. Aparna, how do you feel about that?
MATHUR So I, you know, the bill does say that you have a right to request a flexible, predictable and stable schedule. Also what I like about that is that it says that if the employer deems that there is a bona fide business reason for them to not allow that flexibility, then they can do that. And those business reasons include, you know, having demand conditions -- depending upon the demand conditions that the employer faces.
MATHUR If you're at a McDonald's shift and you anticipate a huge surge on demand on Sunday morning breakfast, then, yes, you will, you are allowed to say, no, you know, we need you to be there. And again -- so you can deny the request to -- maybe you have another place that you want to be, but you could deny that request. So what I like about that part of the bill is that it does say that there are business reasons, cost reasons that employers can use...
REHM There are...
MATHUR ...to deny those requests.
REHMAnd, Susan Lambert, how do you feel about those exceptions?
LAMBERT Well, the devil's always in the details.
REHM Of course.
LAMBERT And those will probably be worked out in administrative roles in the government. And so, this is something that many of us will be watching to see whether consider really bona fide business reasons. But absolutely, I think one of the key points here is that those of us who are supporting new standards around work hours that we're also doing it not only to support workers, but also to strengthen businesses in our country.
REHMIndeed. And, Carrie, do you want to continue now with the other portions?
GLEASON So, you know, there are seven states in this country that have reporting pay laws. When a worker arranges for child care, pays for work and reports to work and businesses slack, that they can expect a minimum shift pay. And so, the Schedules that Work Act looks to set a federal standard around reporting pay, and then update it for today's workforce that says when workers are expected to be on call and be available with just an hour's notice, they should be able to receive some extra pay for being available to work, in addition to when shifts are canceled. And so, that's a -- I mean...
REHM So you're saying, if you get a telephone call saying, please be here in two hours. We've got a busload of people coming in, so we need your help. And then I, as an employee, arrive and the buses have been canceled and my employer says, never mind, I don't need you, go back home. What you're saying is that that employee should be reimbursed for how much?
GLEASON For four hours of pay, that's the standard that exists in New York state and works successfully. Employers can predict their business needs. It's rare that the bus doesn't actually show up. And so, it's just saying, you know, it's a pretty minimal pay for having a workforce that's available to work.
REHM Aparna, how do you feel about that?
MATHUR So, I -- the Schedules that Work Act, you know, the technical compensation, it says that if you are entitled to come for four hours of a shift and you arrive and that doesn't happen, then you're entitled to a minimum of four hours. If you were entitled to less than four hours originally in the original scheduling, then you get compensated for the actual hours that you should have been there.
MATHUR What I feel this does is that it imposes on employers when they're, you know, the very reason employers depend upon these workers is because they can change their schedule flexibly, that they can adjust to changing demand conditions. So if you're imposing cost on them irrespective of whether they're actually getting people to come in and buy the products, I think you are going to see a situation where employers are going to rely on these workers.
MATHUR And you may get the unintended consequence of employers saying, okay, well, we're not going to schedule these workers at all, let's see if we have alternatives. Let's see if we can get a machine instead of this worker to come in and do this job. So it will have unintended consequences.
REHM All right. And joining us now by phone from Connecticut is Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. She's a Democrat representing Connecticut's 3rd district. Last month, she introduced new legislation that does aim to protect part-time and on-call workers. Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ROSA DELAURO Thank you very, very much. I'm pleased to join -- I'm pleased to join such a distinguished panel.
REHM Thank you. Talk about the act that...
REHM ...you introduced last month and what it would do.
DELAURO Well, first of all, you know, I want to -- I was listening to the panel discussion and, you know, while I concur that flexibility is important, the fact is it's what the Schedules that Work Act, which has been referenced, it's essentially there to protect hourly workers from scheduling abuse. And there's documentation around the issue of scheduling abuse. And we're looking at the fastest growing industries in our economy and the lowest paying industry.
DELAURO We're looking at retail, food service. These workers -- and again documented -- face erratic and they are regular, you know, work schedules. And so, in essence, what we're trying to do is to protect all employees from retaliation, which has also been documented for requesting a more flexible or a predictable or a stable schedule. You know, and we're looking at legitimate reasons, you know.
DELAURO And employees do have care giving duties. They may be pursuing an education or a training course. They may have demands from a second job that require a schedule change. And -- what we do is create a process, but it also says that, you know, we want an employer to be responsive unless an employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.
REHM I wonder if you would talk about the kind of scheduling abuse that you've referenced.
DELAURO Mm-hmm. Well, I, you know, look, when congressman, you know, Congressman George Miller, Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Warren, the four of us have introduced this legislation, we had a woman who was with us who spoke up, Mary Coleman and we can give you, you know, chapter and verse. She arrives for her job at a Milwaukee Popeye's restaurant, told to go home without clocking in even though she was scheduled to work.
DELAURO And then she was not paid for the day. Now I don't know all the particulars of, you know, what did Mary leave behind? What rearrangements in her schedule, her family schedule, that she had change and rearrange to get there, take an hour to get there and then told, sorry, and then to not get paid. Where is the equity in something -- in something like that? Quite frankly, I'd just be very, you know, low wage workers in America are too often being jerked around.
DELAURO So what we want to do is to ensure that, you know, the willingness to put in the hard day's work at a fair day's pay and the ability to care -- to take care, you know, of the circumstances that come in your -- in your family life.
DELAURO And our view is that it -- it benefits the employee but also the employer because you've got less turnover and less absenteeism.
REHM And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Given the atmosphere, shall we, put on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman DeLauro, how much support do you have for this bill and how soon do you think you'd even be able to get debate on it?
DELAURO Right. Currently in House bill we have 37 co-sponsors. We just introduced it, quite frankly, before we broke for the August district work period. We're adding people every day. We have 70 organizations who have endorsed the act. But your point is well taken. Frankly, getting any sort of pro-worker legislation through this Republican House of Representatives, you know, is a very, very tall order and certainly nothing's going to happen on this issue.
DELAURO And quite frankly, nothing will happen before the end of this session of the Congress. But what we've done is to -- we laid the groundwork for the effort and it will continue. And I know our colleagues George Miller and Tom Harkin are going to retire, but Senator Warner -- Warren and myself will carry the bill. If I could just make one point...
DELAURO ...because I think it's important in this context. You know, a number of years ago, I proposed that we put calorie counts on menus. It was a number of years ago. I was regarded as the crazy aunt in the attic. It is now the law of the land. It's part of the Affordable Care Act, and we will have more transparency as that provision is being implemented. You had Pat Schroeder, Senator Dodd introduced family and medical leave in 1985, 1986.
DELAURO And some of the same kinds of criticisms, if you were, were talked about at that time that we were going to -- our economy was going to fail. We were putting an onerous burden on business. You know, it finally became law in 1993.
REHM Same with airbags.
DELAURO And it's now, you know, 20 years, 100 million people, men and women, have used family and medical leave.
DELAURO And our business -- our economy hasn't crashed. So that, you know -- we're only trying to reflect what the current work environment is. And I will just say this from woman's perspective, in terms of minimum wage jobs, two out of three minimum wage workers are women. They are in these retail jobs. They are in the restaurant field and they're more likely single headed households dealing with these issues and have to concern themselves about this kind of work.
DELAURO Yes, flexibility is important, but they're putting the pieces of their lives together and having consistency or two-week notice on, you know, what it might be, sure, that could change. But as a norm, going in and being told you're going to be there for a length of time and then said, no, well, four hours pay is standard as it's been, you know, as our colleagues have said here on this panel.
DELAURO We're not asking for anything that is, quite frankly, outrageous and it can be not -- and most of all, not being retaliated against when you can't -- when you request or you can't meet that request so that you don't get the hours anymore and you're not able to sustain yourself economically.
REHM So you said you had 33 supporters in the House.
DELAURO Thirty-seven, 37.
REHM Sorry, 37 supporters in the House.
DELAURO Right, right. We have a ways to go. We have a ways to go. Yeah.
REHM You have a ways to go and the point that you are making is that these changes happen slowly, and they happen when somebody gets in there and begins the dialogue and begins the push. Do you really think that someday this is going to be the law?
DELAURO I do. I do believe that, the way I believed that, you know, the menu labeling was and then family and medical leave was and paycheck fairness will be. Men, women, same jobs, same pay. I believe all those efforts will be law of the land.
REHM All right. I want to thank you so much for joining us. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Democrat in Connecticut's 3rd district. Good luck to you.
DELAURO Thank you so much.
REHM And we'll take a short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHM And welcome back. As we talk about laws or the lack thereof affecting part-time workers, here's an email from Michael. He says, "I'm from Canada and currently working in the USA. The lack of employment laws in the U.S. is astonishing. In Canada, even as a part-time worker during my college years, I had protections mandated by law. These included mandatory vacations, specific rest periods between shifts and other protections.
REHM The U.S. must join the rest of the industrialized world and enact stronger employment laws." Carrie Gleason, where does the U.S. stand in regard to the rest of the industrialized world here?
GLEASON We're far behind. You know, in Europe, there are already many protections. There's the Part-time Work Directive in the EU. And many of the policies are already in existence. There's Right to Request in the UK. There's equitable part-time work across the board. You know, what's interesting here is, you know, as we think about kind of where we are in public policy today, there was once a fight for the 40-hour work week.
GLEASON And I think that we could all say is that in the past 75 years, work has really changed. And so what's happening right now, there's a revival, you know. There's women who are working in the workplace more than ever. Low wage industries are growing. And these women and low wage workers are bringing back this fight for a fair work week.
GLEASON What we're saying is we just need a voice in how much and when we work. It's simple protections that many countries have already established and so it's exciting to see this moment, I think. While Congress has its own timeline, we're seeing cities and states across the country raise the minimum wage and we're gonna see a movement for a fair work week, I think, spread across the country.
GLEASON Because in terms of -- especially for hourly workers, which are our growth workforce, you need not just, you know, fair wages, you also need fair hours to add up to a decent paycheck at the end of the week.
MATHUR Diane, what I worry about is all regulation. We have tons of research now looking at how a lot of countries in Europe had these huge, you know, restrictions on hiring and firing workers. You know, there were regulations about who you could fire, when you could fire, you know, what the cost was if you fired a worker.
MATHUR And all of that suggests that those kinds of restrictions on employers lead to a much less flexible workforce and at the same time, employers are more reluctant to hire out of the pool of, you know, people because they know that every hire they make, there's a significant cost to letting them go.
REHM But what about part-time workers? Isn't the EU doing a better job? Aren't they ahead of us?
MATHUR They have a lot more -- I mean, they have a lot more flexible work arrangements, which is absolutely true. And I would say, you know, there's nothing wrong with part-time work. I think people who -- if you regulate less, you will get more people into the labor force. And we're seeing, you know, the problem right now is we're seeing a labor market where people want full time jobs and they're not getting those jobs.
MATHUR And I think if we regulate more, then we're going to see even fewer workers get full-time jobs.
REHM What about that, Carrie?
GLEASON I mean, in San Francisco, right now, there's a proposal that says if an employer has more hours of work, all they have to do is simply offer their current workforce the opportunity to work full-time. It's not mandating full-time work. It's just saying, you know, Diane, would you like to work full-time? No? Great. You're enjoying your part-time job. Okay, I'm gonna go hire someone else.
GLEASON But it's just about creating a fair process to access to good full-time work. That's what we need.
REHM All right. I'm going to open the phones now. Let's go to Boyds, Maryland, and Nancy, you're on the air.
NANCY Hi, good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call.
NANCY My concern isn't just part-time retail workers or people that, you know, have to take those jobs. I'm a registered nurse and it has been common practice in hospitals for the 37 years I've been one that you sign up for 12 hours and at 5:30 in the morning, they'll call you and cancel and so you don't get work that day. And if you have vacation time, you have to take it if you want to get paid.
NANCY Now, this occurred to me eight times in a month at a hospital. So it isn't just people that work part-time. It is very common practice in hospitals all over the country.
REHM All right. Susan, do you want to comment?
LAMBERT Yes. I just would like to say that according to these new national datas, that that's absolutely, you know, correct, of course, that these kinds of employer practices are widespread across industries. They affect full-time workers and part-time workers, men, as well as women. These are common practices today.
REHM And Cindy in Fort Worth, Texas, writes, "My son was a part-time worker at Starbucks going to college. His schedule was never the same. He would close at 2:00 a.m. and be scheduled to open at 4:30 a.m. the same day. He had no choice if he wanted to keep his job. Complaints to management were ignored." Aparna.
MATHUR I would say, you know, if you're in a job where you think you're not getting the shift that you want or if you think the employer's being unfair, there are multiple employers offering multiple shifts, multiple kind of flexible options. You know, as an employee, you have the right and the ability to move across employers.
REHM Sure. You can quit.
MATHUR You can quit.
REHM But then, finding another job may not be so easy. So that's why Cindy is saying her son has no choice. And what the rules proposed are trying to change is exactly that kind of situation.
MATHUR But I think we need to question is why are employers engaging in these practices. If we think that it's coming out of, you know, lack of concern for the employee, then, you know, we need to -- that's a different issue than saying employers are responding to economic conditions. They're facing changes in demand, which is affecting shift workers and that's why we need to, you know, that's why they're making these unpredictable, flexible work schedules.
MATHUR So do the extent it's coming out of an economic condition that employers are, themselves, facing, that they're facing huge costs, where they're facing fluctuations in demand that they can't control, I think we need to be a little bit sympathetic to the employer side of the equation as well.
LAMBERT I'd say there's different ways to that end. There's a way to keep labor flexible while also delivering greater stability to employees. A lot of employers today are pretty darn good at predicting within, you know, 80 or 90 percent of their labor demands and they need a little tweaking on the last 10 or 20 percent. But what we see are whole labor forces that are kept on-call, treated as though they're contract workers and not regular employees.
LAMBERT So it's a matter degree. And the other thing is if that flexibility is so important to business, then businesses should pay for that and not individual workers and not so much families or taxpayers who a lot of this cost is externalized to the taxpayer because then we have to provide supplements to the income for their workers.
REHM All right. To Zeke in Freeport, Illinois, hi, you're on the air.
ZEKE Hi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
ZEKE I've listened to your show a number of times. I've enjoyed it and frankly, shocked to get on the air. But Natalie put me through. I appreciate that. Several comments, I just wanted to say that, first of all, thank you for having the congresswoman on. She clearly cares about this issue and is going to try to do something about it, but I'm pretty cynical. She's got no chance.
ZEKE She'll never get through a Republican Congress. And as to your two guests, the other woman that -- I believe Carrie seems caring as well. But I would direct my questions and comments to Aparna, I believe is her name. You cite a number of studies and surveys which are either totally inaccurate or, frankly, these were disingenuous.
ZEKE There are so many workers fighting for so many unavailable jobs it's unbelievable. You have to concept of how bad it is. Now, I want to ask you this question. Companies have record profits right now. What is the problem? You say there is too much regulation with workers' hours. They're not hiring now with no regulations. What makes you think that more regulations to be fair to the worker is going to affect sales?
MATHUR Okay. Let me start with, you know, why do we see a growth in part-time employment during recessions. In 2007, before the recession began, about 17 percent of the workforce was part-time employed. In 2010, about 20 percent was. We see, if you look at research coming out of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco -- and these are all highly cited, you know, good publications. I'm not citing random, you know, places.
MATHUR They studied this issue of part-time employment and what they find is that part-time employment is highly correlated with recessions. I mean, cyclical changes in demand predict very accurately what happens to part-time employment. Business slack is the biggest reason why we're seeing a big increase in part-time employment.
MATHUR And I'm completely sympathetic to the fact that there are, you know, 10 million people who are unemployed. There are 7.5 million who are in involuntary part-time jobs. They want full-time jobs. They're not getting them. But my argument is that if you now try to step in and say, okay, now we're going to step in between the employer and the employee and we're also going to mandate how the employee negotiates with the employer.
MATHUR You're not going to get an outcome where the employer is now suddenly more willing to hire these workers, suddenly willing to give them, you know, better shifts and a better schedule. What you might get is a shift away from these workers, is a shift away from, you know, people to machines or something...
REHM All right. Let's hear what Susan has to say.
LAMBERT Well, I think we have to look at, you know, why employers are doing this and to separate out what is a rationale versus what is rational. And I think, a lot of times, we look at what businesses do and assume that people are really rational and that there's a business reason driving this. And when you're on the front lines of firms and you're studying these practices, anything but the word rational comes into your head.
LAMBERT People are sent home in the middle of a, you know, in the middle of a shift. It has to kind of undermine the overall profitability of business. And I think it's, again, a matter of degree. Businesses needs some flexibility. Do they need as much as they have now? The kinds of things that are being suggested in legislation are very minimal. They provide minimal standards around -- that employers should be able to work around and still maintain enough flexibility.
REHM All right. Let's go to Lynn in Charlotte, North Carolina. You're on the air.
LYNN Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.
LYNN I'm a very long-time listener. I had to laugh. I tuned into your show as I do whenever I can because I was on my way home after showing up at my extremely part-time minimum wage job, showing up when I was scheduled to work and being told, oh, so sorry, we changed the schedule. And I'm like, what? Because the way our job works, I'm in retail, is that they publish the schedule on Thursday or Friday. You check it and then you show up to work.
LYNN So I checked my schedule on Friday. I was scheduled today to work and what happened was that they changed the schedule on Monday. No one bothered to tell me. I rearranged my entire week so that I could show up today. Got into work and was told, oh, I'm so sorry. You're not supposed to be working today.
REHM And were you paid any amount for this shift?
LYNN Heck, no. Oh, no. My goodness, no.
REHM So Carrie, this is precisely the kind of situation you and the congresswoman are talking about.
GLEASON Yeah. And, you know, I've worked with retail workers for almost a decade now and the story that we just heard from that caller has happened -- happens all the time. Employers change the schedule and aren't even legally required to notify workers that the schedule has changed. It's turning this workforce into a day-labored workforce and that's why we need these protections.
REHM And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Aparna, having heard this story from Lynn in Charlotte, North Carolina, what would you say to her?
MATHUR I'm absolutely sympathetic to her story. What I would suggest is, you know, she needs to have a conversation with the employer. I'm not against a flexible, predictable, stable schedule. I would say negotiate it directly with employer.
REHM Okay. Lynn, what do you think about that? Negotiate with your employer.
LYNN Well, I'd love to negotiate if I had been bothered to be told. You know, when you're not told and then you do what you -- you follow the rules and then you do what you're supposed to do and they're like, oh, too bad, so sad. You know, I'm in a fortunate situation in that I do not use this job whatsoever to pay my rent, to pay childcare.
LYNN This is an extremely part-time job for me. However, I work with single mothers. I work with students and I speak to them and they are trying to pay rent. They are trying to buy groceries. They are trying to arrange childcare around their work. And I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't have to arrange all those things. But I do know that this happens in my field, and...
REHM All right. Carrie.
GLEASONI would just like to add that fundamental to these practices, what is happening across the board with unpredictable, unstable, part-time work is that it's undermined the bargaining power that workers today have. It's completely destabilized employment in sectors like retail, which are now close to 10 percent of our private sector workforce.
GLEASON And what's happening is that it's labor market failure. It's not working. Workers don't have the power to be able to bargain over their schedules. Their hours just get cut when they speak up and so that's why we're coming together more broadly.
REHMProposals about part-time, regulating part-time work schedules are, in fact, spreading. New York City is one. Talk about what's going on there.
GLEASON What's happening in New York City is very exciting. There is a movement where workers at an organization called the Retail Action Project or part of the Retail Workers Union have been organizing for just hours at employers like Zara and have been taking on employers who are making the wrong choice and say, you know, we need you to change. And so they are coming together and exercising their right to organize.
GLEASON What's also happening is that you have comptroller Scott Stringer and other progressive city council members that are exploring opportunities to pass new protections. They're exploring Right to Request, as well as caregiver protections.
REHM All right. And we'll leave it right there. We'll be watching how things go. Carrie Gleason, she's director of the Fair Work Week Initiative, Aparna Mathur is at the American Enterprise Institute, Susan Lambert is at the School of Social Service at the University of Chicago. Thank you all so much.
MATHUR Thank you so much.
GLEASON Thank you, Diane.
REHM And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm