Friday, May 8, 2015

Robert Reich: How Just In Time Scheduling Is Making Workers' Lives Hell

If you have never heard of this term, just-in-time scheduling is where employers in service industries (think retail and restaurants) can alert low-wage and part-time employees up to half an hour (!) before their scheduled shift to determine whether or not they are needed. Due to technological advances and high-speed internet, employers use "workplace optimization systems" to determine weather, traffic, sales, and nearby event patterns to predict customer demand. While this process may save money for the employer, it is costly for workers who plan their schedules around commuting and child-care needs. To arrive to work only to be sent home because you are not needed places a considerable economic burden on working families, who are disproportionately communities of color. The decline of steady jobs with regular and predictable work schedules has created a system where employees' economic security is at its lowest point. This nation has reverted back to old practices (poor working conditions, insufficient pay, and lack of benefits) that have not been witnessed since the Great Depression. According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, low-wage and part-time workers, who have no control over their erratic schedules and monthly income, are at the mercy of their employers in the "flexible" labor market.

Robert Reich describes the pitfalls of just-in-scheduling in this way:

These days it’s not unusual for someone on the way to work to receive a text message from her employer saying she’s not needed right then.

Although she’s already found someone to pick up her kid from school and arranged for childcare, the work is no longer available and she won’t be paid for it.

Just-in-time scheduling like this is the latest new thing, designed to make retail outlets, restaurants, hotels, and other customer-driven businesses more nimble and keep costs to a minimum.

Software can now predict up-to-the-minute staffing needs on the basis of information such as traffic patterns, weather, and sales merely hours or possibly minutes before.

This way, employers don’t need to pay anyone to be at work unless they’re really needed. Companies can avoid paying wages to workers who’d otherwise just sit around.

Employers assign workers tentative shifts, and then notify them a half-hour or 10 minutes before the shift is scheduled to begin whether they’re actually needed. Some even require workers to check in by phone, email, or text shortly before the shift starts.

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