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Hours Shrink for Workers in America

November 5, 2012
Plain English Version

More and more, retail stores are hiring part-time workers and making them work irregular shifts.

A worker at a Fresh and Easy grocery store in San Diego works shifts of five hours. She works for $10.90 an hour, averaging 28 hours a week. Her wages come to $16,500 a year. A single woman, she says, “I cannot live on this, it is almost impossible.” All 22 of the store’s employees are part-time except for five managers.

Restaurants and retailers have always employed part-time workers. In the past 20 years, many major retailers went from 70 to 80 percent full-time workers to more than 70 percent part-time workers.

The federal government says that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006 and added 500,000 part-time jobs.

One of the reasons for these changes is new technology in scheduling workers’ shifts. Computer programs now can show how many workers will be needed on a shift according to the weather or other things that affect sales.

In the end, part-time work works for employers by allowing them to cut costs for wages, health benefits and retirement. It also makes it harder for workers to get promoted.

Some workers, for example house wives and students, appreciate working less than full-time. For many others, part-time work has pushed them into near poverty, forcing them onto food stamps and Medicaid.

Companies are taking advantage of a weak labor market to impose their rules on workers. There are fewer trade unions to negotiate contracts setting standards for work rules and benefits.

Said one observer, “ It is almost like sharecropping. When you have many farmers with small plots of land, they work hard to produce. Many part-time workers work hard during their limited hours to impress managers to give them more work.”

The New York Times

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