Shifty Work Conditions

McArdle contemplates the current state of part-time labor:

Unfortunately, the weakness in the labor market has coincided with yet another market development: scheduling software and technology that allows retailers to manage their workforce as another just-in-time input.

Workers are asked to input blocks of hours when they will be available; the software then crunches through everyone’s availability and spits out a schedule that takes account of everything from weather forecasts to the danger that a worker will go over the maximum number of hours to still be considered part time. Obviously, you can’t string together multiple jobs this way, because each job requires that you block out many more available hours than you will actually work. Meanwhile, Steve Greenhouse reports on even worse practices that I hadn’t heard of: requiring workers to be “on call” at short notice or scheduling them for shifts and then sending them home if business looks light.

In this situation, no matter how hard you are willing to work, stringing together anything approaching a minimum income becomes impossible. That makes it much more deeply troubling than low pay.

Update from a reader, who brings up unions:

This is why anyone who works at a part-time job in a non-union shop is essentially a wage slave.

My company – a major grocery chain – uses similar software for scheduling, but union rules specifically rule out “on call” employees, or sending employees home during unexpectedly light business without their consent. In addition, it is strictly against the rules – and grounds for a grievance – to schedule an employee outside their available hours.

Thus many of our employees can work multiple jobs – several spend three or four days with us and another two or three with another employer (the only stipulation being it cannot be a competitor, obviously). Some even work making deliveries for our suppliers on their “off days”. It also means working moms can schedule themselves to be home when the kids arrive from school or daycare, students can reliably schedule college classes without worrying about work conflicts, etc.

Without union rules, none of this would be possible.