Friday, September 5, 2014

"Workers as Interchangeable Parts"

This morning the Labor Department reported only 142,000 new jobs were added to the U.S. economy in August. month.  Economists had expected a 225,000-job bump, in line with other reports this year.

In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 7.3 million "involuntary part-time workers."

Against that backdrop, I recommend reading or listening to the audio versions of a PBS Newshour story that was broadcast on Labor Day, at the bottom of this post.  It describes the lives of some of those part-time workers.

It seems that many companies now adjust and shift work schedules, with little advance notice, to minimize paid employee time and, presumably, to assure that no worker gets in more than 30 hours a week, the new definition of full-time for health insurance purposes.  Much of this scheduling is done by computerized operations-management programs.

In the past, a store manager might have taken employees' school schedules or childcare needs into account when planning staffing.  A good worker could hope to get hired on full time or even promoted.  None of this seems likely for the people in the PBS profile.

Now, what is good for employers turns out to be rather hard on employees, especially the many who hold two or more part-time jobs.  Arranging commutes and getting enough sleep are difficult for people who must make themselves available at all hours, sometimes 24 hours per day.

One sad case was reported recently in New Jersey.  A 32-year-old woman with four different part-time jobs -- three at three different Dunkin Donuts shops -- died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  She had pulled her recently purchased 13-year-old car into a parking lot to nap between work shifts.  A can of gasoline she kept for emergencies tipped over, and the fumes overcame her.

More part-time workers suffer instability, long hours to make ends meet

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