Anyone looking for a part-time job in Sarasota, needs to understand the conflict over the meaning of the term “flexible.”
There is the employee definition: yes, I can work 20 hours spread over days, evenings, and weekends. I am flexible: just give me a schedule and I’ll be there.
And then there is the employer definition: yes, you must always be available, at our whim, and with little notice. You must be flexible: we own you.
So even though you may be scheduled to work Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (for an embarrassing wage like $10.50 an hour), management can call a mandatory one-hour meeting on a Monday morning, or a required 8-hour training session on a Tuesday, or demand that you fill-in for another employee for 4 hours on Wednesday, or assign you to a different location miles away from your normal workplace, or shift you from working in one unit to another in the name of the “best practice” businesses call “cross training.” If you protest, you will be reminded that you stated at hiring that you were “flexible,” and that there are 100 other people who also applied for the job.
Without a doubt, these practices are oppressive. They prevent the part-time employee from holding two jobs, make arranging for child care nearly impossible, override the employee’s choice to apply for one job but then be assigned to another, and interrupt the employee’s outside life with little notice—and all this while working for a low paying hourly wage without vital benefits like health care. Some employers don’t even guarantee a set number of hours, so your paycheck with rise and fall like the stock market.
A proposal, by a coalition of worker advocates based in New York State, is about to take on some of these oppressive practices. On Tuesday September 6 (nicely timed as the day following Labor Day), they announced in Albany, NY the start of a national campaign, The Fair Workweek Initiative, to change the work environment for the approximate 75 million (not a typo) workers who are paid hourly, many of whom are part-time.
The changes sought:
- No more calling in employees for work without a guarantee of four hours of paid time (this is already illegal under NYS law);
- No more forcing employees to stay beyond their assigned shift;
- No more on-call scheduling; scheduling needs to be done two weeks in advance.
Before you feel sorry for the hapless employer trying to make this work, consider that the biggest offenders are from the biggest corporate brands: American Eagle, Aeropostale, Payless, Disney, Coach, PacSun, Forever 21, and more.
Some of the other corporate giants have already agreed to reform their practices: Pier 1 Imports, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, and Victoria’s Secret.
But retailers, restaurants, and companies are not the only offenders.
City, county, and state governments are also large employers and some of them are equally guilty of these practices—and they should be ashamed. One should expect governments to treat their citizen employees fairly.
During my experiences as a government employee in Florida, mandatory educational sessions were regularly held outside of my scheduled work hours; I was called in on days off for mandatory one hour meetings; when supervisory positions were vacant, the workload was distributed among the workforce without the additional pay; other employees felt they had no choice but to agree to being transferred to locations further from their homes; and when I questioned the fairness of these practices I was reminded that I could go work somewhere else.
True. Now I’m truly flexible—I am unemployed.
But the person who should be unemployed is Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi, who did not join the AGs from the eight states and District of Columbia who have called upon retailers who do business in their states to embrace a fair workweek.
Sources: “Coalition Makes Push for Reliable Schedules,” Michael Virtanen, Associated Press, 9-7-16. Reprinted in the Herald-Tribune, p. A2.