Hail the lowly bar code. By enabling retailers to track sales and inventory, it allows them to order goods from warehouses and manufacturers only when needed, reducing overhead and costs. Just-in-time production is a signal achievement of our digitized age.
Just-in-time labor is not. Millions of retail workers are routinely summoned to their workplaces with little more advance warning than their employers accord the truckloads of goods or food those workers sell. Unlike those products, of course, workers have lives. They have kids to get to school or put in day care, families to cook for, courses to take, other gigs to report to, promises to keep. They can do all that if they have regular schedules, but such schedules are often hard to come by.
A recent study by the University of Chicago’s Susan Lambert reported that 41 percent of young (ages 26 to 32) hourly workers get their schedules a week or less in advance, and that “in the course of a single month, workers’ hours varied on average by 37 percent in comparison to what they considered their usual hours.”
Regular hours were once a cornerstone of Americans’ work lives. They were a feature of the union contracts that covered a third of the workforce in the decades following World War II. But as unions have vanished and workers suffered a loss of power, thousands of employers have taken to summoning their employees — or telling them to wait, unpaid, until they are either...
[Click here to see the rest of this post]