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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. . .