Unpredictable hours create chaos in the lives of low-wage workers. Today, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times shines a spotlight on the tyranny of unpredictable hours, which affects countless working people, but which typically receives scant attention from the elite media.
Jannette Navarro is a 22-year-old Starbucks barista raising a son on her own and working towards a college degree, but her unpredictable hours are wreaking havoc on her ability to build a stable life and advance in her career:
But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.
Companies use high-tech computer scheduling to wring extra profit out of their operations by minimizing downtime, at the expense of the freedom and quality of life of their workforce. Workers are often expected to be available with little or no notice. These expectations make it difficult to schedule childcare and transportation, get an education, or plan any activity more than three days in advance.
Low-wage workers are gaining unprecedented visibility thanks to the efforts of groups like Fast Food Forward. As low-wage workers gain a stronger voice in the workplace, scheduling is sure to be a major issue.
Update: Starbucks has resolved to reform its scheduling policies in the wake of the New York Times story.
[Photo credit: Bernard Polet, Creative Commons.]