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When politicians talk about workers, they
tend to focus on certain types of jobs.“Bernie Sanders stood American workers. ”“It’s American workers that remake this
country”But in the US, retail workers have outnumbered
manufacturing workers since 2002. And food service workers aren’t far behind. These jobs are in every community they’re
the base of the service economy. So with the recession in the rear view mirror,
it’s worth asking: can these jobs be good.
What do we want?Contract!When do we want it?Now!These Kroger workers are rallying outside
a grocery store in West Virginia because theiremployer wouldn’t meet their demands, stalling
negotiations for a new union contract.“It’s not like we’re asking for the
sun, the moon and the stars. We want a modest living wage and we want the
maintenance of our medical benefits. ”Kroger eventually agreed to a new 3 year contract
for over 4,000 workers. It includes pay raises and zero cuts to their
benefits. By negotiating collectively, service workers
can secure an hourly wage that is six dollarshigher on average than nonunion wages.
But they are a small minority.Private sector union membership in the US
has fallen to 6. 4% of all workers. It’s even lower in the retail and food service
industries. The decline of unions in the US was caused
in part by larger trends that have shiftedthe types of jobs available, especially for
those without a college degree. During the 80s, 90s and 2000s, several occupations
that used to provide a stable middle classincome grew more slowly than both higher wage
and lower wage jobs.
That’s partly due to new technologies: robots
in factories, computer software in offices.“The decline in the middle has been steep. A lot of that has been growth at the top,
which is good. People have moved out of the middle and into
professional, technical and managerial jobs. But, the bottom section of the labor market,
which comprises maybe 17 18 percentage ofjobs, is about a third larger than it was
in 1980. And if you look just among people without
a college degree it’s much larger still.
And that’s the group we should be concerned
about.”The great recession intensified those longer term
trends. Since 2010, the economy has added millions
of jobs, but not evenly. The biggest area of growth was in high skill
occupations, mostly for people with 4 yearcollege degrees. Meanwhile workers with a high school diploma
were pushed out of middle skill occupations. And in low skill jobs, they’re increasingly
competing with those who have some college.
“We’re adding lots of jobs.The concern is that, many of the jobs that
are being added are not good jobs, in termsof offering a reasonable standard of living
and job security. And many of the good jobs that are being added
are not accessible to typical workers. ”“Thank you for joining us today to discuss
the importance of predictable schedules andincomes for workers. ”“Hello my name is Kingia Phillips. I am a former worker at South Philadelphia
”“The juice pallets were the most hard to
do.And when you’re pregnant, you’re not supposed
to lift above your head, but I had to. ”Kingia came to DC to speak in favor of a federal
bill that would regulate work schedules forretail, with the aim of increasing stability
in hours and income. “After I had the baby I asked them could
I have my schedule adjusted, a tiny bit. And they told me that we all have kids and
they have a job to do, a company to run. And it turned out that they cut my schedule
down to 8 hours a week.
”“I was doing 32 hours.”It’s a common complaint among part time
retail workers: that to get enough hours youhave to be available to work at any time the
store is open, which is especially hard forparents, students, and people with a second
job. So after a month, Kingia quit. “I knew they were just going to tell me
to re open my availability, and that wouldbe the only way for me to make more money
and be able to sustain myself and my child. ”The federal proposal faces an uphill battle
in a Republican congress, but since 2014,six cities and the state of Oregon have passed
scheduling policies. The details vary from place to place but most
of them apply to fast food and retail workers,they require two weeks advance notice of work
schedules, with extra pay for subsequent changesthat are initiated by the company.
Most of the measures also require employers
to offer hours to existing employees beforehiring more people.“So what it does is, a lot of these policies
start to balance out the burden of doing business,so that the people who are getting who are
getting paid the lowest aren’t the only onesbearing the cost. ”Policymakers have also moved to increase the
minimum wage and require paid sick leave incertain cities and states. It’s a response to the fact that not only
are middle class jobs moving out of reachfor non college workers, but a lot the remaining
jobs have also gotten worse since the recessionhit. “In 2005, you could walk into a JC Penney,
and it was a stable workforce. People had full time hours, and health insurance,
and even commission.
It was a workforce that knew each other, and
felt like they could make their job better.By 2008, that workforce was completely contingent. People’s hours were changing from one week
to the next. Nobody knew each other. ”The number of involuntary part time workers
those are people working part time whowould prefer full time work that jumped
up during the recession. And the increase was greater for both the
retail sector and for leisure and hospitality,which includes restaurants and hotels.
This is part of a much broader trend.A 2016 study found a significant rise in “alternative
work arrangements” across the economy. That includes temp workers, contract firm
workers and freelancers. And it makes sense: Salaried and full time
workers are fixed costs for employers. Whether revenue is up or down, you have to
pay them and fund their benefits. But if you have a pool of more flexible workers
whose hours you can dial up and down to matchyour sales, you can save money, at least in
the short term.
Those cost cutting strategies have been enabled
by new technologies.“Today, a lot of big employers are using
workforce scheduling technologies, and soit’s an algorithm that’s setting the schedule. And when you do an analysis of when the peak
hours are, it’s easier to slot people in forfour hour shifts and then rotate it out. But there’s very few companies have systems
that basically say, ‘My goal is to try togive people some stability in their hours
from one week to the next, and I’m gonna tryto match people’s schedules from one week
to the next. ’”What this has meant for some workers is schedules
and paychecks that change from week to week. A gallup poll of hourly workers with varying
hours found that one out of three said theirschedules cause them financial hardship.
“Instead of giving me two 8 hour shifts
and a 4 hour shift, they would give me 5 4 hourshifts.So I would have to go to school and go to
work 5 times a week, instead of working 3days a week. ”“The amount of hours they give out is based
on sales, which I believe is horrible. One week I’ll have 13 hours, the next i’ll
have 25, the next I’ll have 30, then backdown to 15. And that — that shows on my paycheck. ”Target and Walmart already post schedules
at least a week and a half in advance.
Both companies have also raised their minimum
wages in recent years.And several retailers have announced an end
to the controversial practice of on callscheduling. “On call shifts require employees to call
employers the day before or the day of thepotential shift to find out if they’ll be
needed to work. If employees aren’t needed, they don’t
get paid. ”But they’re a long way from a model like
Costco’s which guarantees a minimum amountof weekly hours for both full and part time
workers. The union model for including workers’ input
in business decisions has not really movedwith the economy into these low wage service
And it hasn’t been replaced with something
else.So if workers feel like they can’t find
a voice at their jobs, they’ll likely keeplooking for one in the law. . .