FuFu Wolf / CC BY 2.0

The fight for a living wage won’t result in being able to put food on the table if employees are given too few hours of work per week.

“As the movement for a $15 minimum wage grows,” writes RL Stephens II, “low-wage workers know the problem isn’t just the hourly pay rate. It’s also the number of hours scheduled. I’ve worked at Gap in multiple locations since October 2014. I’d like to earn a living wage — but a raise alone won’t help me pay the bills if exploitative schedules aren’t fixed too.”

I spent most of 2014 unemployed while applying to dozens of jobs. Then, in October, I finally got a job at Gap. Our schedule comes out less than a week in advance. Some of the shifts leave workers “on-call,” meaning we don’t know if we’re going to be working at all that day. The earliest we find out is two hours before the shift is scheduled to start. At my first store, I had 18 hours of penciled-in shifts with only nine guaranteed hours some weeks. This is not uncommon in the industry.

The volatility of on-call scheduling, in combination with the low pay, meant my life at Gap wasn’t all that different from when I was unemployed. Though I was working, I still had to go to a food pantry for groceries. In winter, I had to choose between racking up heat bills I couldn’t afford and freezing in my apartment. My landlord would ask me when I’d have the rent money, but I couldn’t give her an answer because I never knew how many hours I’d actually work in a given week. I couldn’t afford to live in the city where I worked, so I had to transfer to a Gap store back home.

I’m not the only one struggling. Retail workers have the second-lowest average weekly earnings of workers in any sector in the US economy: $444 per week. We also have the second-lowest average weekly working hours. From 2006 to 2010, the number of people working part-time for economic reasons and not by choice, grew from 4 to 9 million. It’s called involuntary part-time work, meaning we want full-time employment but a lack of opportunities prevents us from doing so.

“Unpredictable last-minute scheduling” turns even basic decisions into headaches, Stephens continues. “Will we need babysitters for our children? Will we be able to make a doctor’s appointment? Will we have to rush to Gap from our second jobs?”

Continue reading here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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