Originally published by The Guardian, Jana Kasperkevic
July 23, 2014
Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP
Part-time jobs are becoming the source of an employment crisis in the US, as they take the place of full-time jobs for many Americans. That puts many employees at the mercy of erratic part-time schedules, in which they never know what their hours will be from one week to the next.
Congress is making the rare move of taking action on a major employment issue. Representatives George Miller and Rosa L DeLauro introduced a Schedules That Work Act on Tuesday.
There's another version of the bill brewing in the Senate. Senators Tom Harkin and Elizabeth Warren are the sponsors of the Senate’s version of the bill. Carrie Gleason, co-founder of Retail Action Project, said the Warren will introduce the Senate version in upcoming weeks.
“A single mom working two jobs should know if her hours are being canceled before she arranges for daycare and drives halfway across town to show up at work,” said Warren. “This is about some basic fairness in work scheduling so that both employees and employers have more certainty and can get the job done.”
According to the National Women’s Law Center’s summary of the Schedules That Work bill, it would have several goals: to provide employees with the right to request and receive a flexible, predictable or stable work schedule; ensure that employees who show up for a scheduled shift, only to be sent home, receive at least four hours’ worth of pay; and ensure that if employees’ schedule were to change, they are to be notified with a new schedule at two weeks before it goes into effect. It would also prevent employers from retaliating against employees who ask for schedule changes.
A week before the introduction of the legislation, Miller expressed scepticism over the likelihood of its passing the Republican-controlled House. According to the New York Times, the California lawmaker “acknowledges that his bill is unlikely to be enacted anytime soon – partly because of opposition from business”, but hopes that the bill will bring attention to these unfair scheduling practices. That alone says a lot about the current political climate within the US.
Part-time is the new full-time
The growing scale of part-time work suggests it merits closer regulation, or at least scrutiny. Earlier this month, when the US Department of Labor announced that US had added 288,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.1%, many were quick to point out that one of the contributing factors was that part-time jobs were on the rise.
Currently, there are 7.5 million “involuntary part-time” workers in the US. These are workers who weren’t able to find a full-time job or whose hours have been cut back. In June alone, about 275,000 of such part-time jobs were created. Struggling to make ends meet, about 1.89m Americans are currently working two part-time jobs.
About 52% of retail workers and 40% of janitors and housekeepers know their schedule only a week or less in advance, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Retail Action Project found that about 20% of workers got their schedule just three days in advance.
Lack of stable, reliable schedules for part-time workers is "a growing national crisis in the American workplace", according to The Center for Popular Democracy. In addition to the weekly schedule changes, part-time workers are often victims of last-minute schedule changes as well.
“Workers need scheduling predictability so they can arrange for child care, pick up kids from school, or take an elderly parent to the doctor," said Miller.
Women and part-time work
"Like too many others, this is a problem that primarily affects women," DeLauro said when introducing the Schedules That Work Act with Miller.
Last-minute schedule changes are especially difficult on mothers with young children that cannot be left on their own. Out of 200 mothers with young children working in the hospitality industry, just 56% had a predictable work schedule, found ROC-United. For those 46% with un-predictable work-schedule, 39% had a schedule that changes weekly. The remaining 5% had a schedule that might change from day to day.
Four out of 10 mothers said last-minute changes affected their child-care needs. Some had to call in a back-up babysitter, like the mother above. Others, at 29%, had to pay a fine to their childcare provider, due to these schedule changes. Another 20% of mothers lost their child care provider because of their erratic schedule.
State laws go a little way
Since it might be a while yet before Congress takes up the issue, states can step up and take the lead on this issue. Seven states and District of Columbia already have a “reporting time pay” laws in place. Oregon has one as well, but it’s applicable only to minors, according to Retail Action Project.
Currently enacted state laws specifically protect workers who were scheduled for work, but were sent home upon arrival. For example, in New Hampshire, such workers must be paid at least two hours’ pay if this occurs. In other states like Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, they have to be paid for at least three hours.