Panel – Work Hours

Today we are posting three articles related to work hours. In May, the Washington Posts’s “Wonkblog” argued that the next frontier of workplace legislation was “over when you work, not how much you make.” Their post provides some excellent context for the articles included in our panel. Our articles cover a wide range of topics. Naomi Gerstel and Dan Clawson’s lead article details the ways scheduling can impact workers in a variety of ways. Kyla Walters and Joya Misra describe the constraints placed on workers in the retail industry, and Brian Halpin details the use of last minute scheduling in a restaurant kitchen. Enjoy!

by Naomi Gerstel and Dan Clawson

Control over one’s time is a critical resource for having a job and a family. But work hours and schedules, like the ability to control them, are highly unequal. Our book, Unequal Time, examines four occupations in health care—doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, and nursing assistants—to show the ways class and gender shape work hours, schedules, and the ability to control hours and schedules. Gender and class inequalities appear in workplace policy and negotiations over overtime and underwork, unpredictable cancelled shifts and added shifts, breaks, vacations, and family leaves.

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Image: Kyla Walters and Joya Misra

Image: Kyla Walters and Joya Misra

by Kyla Walters and Joya Misra

Retail is one of the fastest growing sectors of the service economy – and one that can include extremely unpredictable work scheduling. While retail positions are generally recognized as “bad jobs” because of their poor wages and benefits, scheduling makes these jobs particularly challenging. Our interviews with 55 clothing retail workers highlight the unpredictability of when workers receive the schedule, the amount of hours they’ll work, whether they’ll be called in last minute, and sometimes, when they can clock out. These practices are part of “just-in-time scheduling,” which link employment hours to customer demand. In this arrangement employers essentially expect workers to be available whenever the store gets busy.

Our study highlights that clothing retail workers experience their employers’ scheduling practices as difficult to navigate. Workers see their employers as both rewarding them with better schedules (since promotions and pay raises are rare) and punishing them by removing them from the schedule, rather than firing them. Scheduling appears to be clothing retail employers’ main means of disciplining workers.

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Image by author.

by Brian Halpin

As I walk up to the time clock to punch out for the day, I glance at the kitchen schedule posted next to the time clock. I notice that my shift times (as well as those of my coworkers) for all of the shifts for Friday through Sunday are missing actual times. Instead I see the word “event” or a question mark inserted as a placeholder. My coworker Josúe makes a comment as he punches his time card. “What the hell, it’s Wednesday. Michael [the kitchen manager] better fucking have my times up tomorrow [for the weekend] an’ he better not cut me on Sunday like he did last week.” As I look to see if I have any days scheduled for the following week, I notice the type in bold across the bottom of the schedule “SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT NOTICE.” Just-in-time scheduling, work hours irregularity, and cutting workers without notice are business as usual at California Catering where workers are subject to erratic and unpredictable scheduling manipulation.

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