Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome to Just-In-Time Retail--Otherwise known as On-Call Scheduling

I found this Nation story:
A century ago, the misery of New York’s urban poor was embodied by the iconic scene of the morning shape-up at the docks, where rough-hewn longshoremen lined up anxiously to see if the boss would pick them for that day’s crew or turn them back empty-handed. These days, the city has a different kind of shape-up—a less visible mill of workers staffing its bustling boutiques and vendors. Instead of assembling at the waterfront, they call the manager to find out how many hours they can get on a given day—stressing about whether they’ll clock enough hours this month to make rent, or hoping their next workday doesn’t interfere with their school schedule or doctor’s appointment.
This anxiety of living not just paycheck to paycheck but hour to hour is the focus of a new policy brief on the impact of unfair schedules on wage workers. The report, published by the progressive think tank Center for Law and Social Policy and the worker-advocacy groups Retail Action Project (RAP) and Women Employed, reveals the flipside of the “flexibility” and “dynamism” of twenty-first-century retail: the tyranny of the daily schedule.
On top of the economic hardships of working a part-time job that does not pay living wage, retail workers are often further burdened by the stress of the on-call schedule: They have to call in first to see if hours are available, wait for word from the boss and, sometimes, end up with just a four-hour shift. The labor of the whole ordeal might then be offset by the financial costs of commuting and the disruption of their entire day. Ironically, while this scheduling structure brings chaos to workers’ lives, it stems from a hyper-mechanized system of computerized staffing configuration. Under huge employers like Walmart and Jamba Juice, this Tayloristically efficient programming often leaves workers at the mercy of variables like the weather (a hot day demands reinforcements for a lunchtime juice rush) or consumer whims (a slump in sales means temporarily downsizing sales-floor staff). Even full-time workers might get saddled with erratic shifts, or are pressured to work extra hours on short notice.
These strenuous schedules reflect the “Just-in-Time” business model and the parallel “need it now” consumer culture. Ever-fluctuating schedules are designed to react instantly to every fad and seasonal spasm of the market, which ties into a frenetic global manufacturing system, stretching from sweatshops in Bangladesh to Fifth Avenue show floors.
Welcome to "Just-In-Time" Retail Sales--Otherwise known as On-Call Scheduling.

 Just-In-Time is a production process in controlling just the right amount of inventory at the right time and right place to manufacture the right amount of a product for sale.  The system was created in Japan in the 1970s, with American manufacturers starting to adopt the system in the 1980s.  If done right, you can achieve incredible efficiency and reduced costs through the reduction of excessive inventory, and controlling waste--you are only producing enough product to satisfy demand.  The hard part is determining how much demand is needed.

 In a sense, it is not surprising that retailers are looking into the Just-In-Time process.  Brick-and-mortar retail stores will always have higher labor and store costs in selling retail goods over that of online stores.  In order to compete, such brick-and-mortar stores will cut costs as much as they can, in order to sell their goods in the lowest price--and labor is a huge cost.  Employee wages for retail positions are already starting at minimum wages.  Hours are being reduced to part-time, possibly as a means to avoid paying any benefits to employees.  But employee work schedules still need to be created to staff the retail stores--you still need warm bodies to man the fort!  And you need those bodies in the store, irregardless of whether the store gets busy with customers, or slows down for the day.

So in the endless quest for efficiency, the retailers have come up with this variation of Just-In-Time production, only renamed On-Call Scheduling.  The employees have become nothing more than inventory parts, to be used in the last minute of production, when the company needs such inventory parts.  Employees have to call the company to see if they are working on a shift that day, or wait for the employer to call them in.  In a sense, the employee has become a slave to a company's computerized staffing programs, waiting each day to see if they will be needed for work.  The company has complete control over their employees lives--both in the workplace, and away from the workplace.  According to The Nation:
The erratic labor structure robs workers of control over their lives. Being constantly on call, without set hours, makes it extremely hard to budget for basic living expenses, like housing and childcare, and sometimes near-impossible to plan ahead for, say, saving for college. And for the working poor, irregular schedules could undermine access to safety-net programs and benefits, which is, sadly, a key resource for many low-wage retail workers who earn so little that they must rely on public welfare programs. Working too few hours, according to the report, “may limit their eligibility to claim firm-provided benefits like health insurance and sick days.” And paradoxically, if they do cobble together enough hours to pay the bills, they might then wind up earning too much to qualify for Medicaid benefits
A RAP survey of New York City retail workers found that about 70 percent did not know their schedules more than a week in advance. According to a nationwide workforce survey cited in RAP’s latest report, “approximately 50 percent of low-wage hourly workers reported having limited control over their work hours.” Moreover, millions nationwide have been forced into “underemployment,” working part-time because they cannot secure full-time work. Many join the burgeoning temp-work sector, where a $10-an-hour, no-benefits gig can morph into a long-term, miserable livelihood.
It is more than just the low or erratic pay here for employees.  If employees do not know their work schedule in advance, they may not have the ability to plan for their personal lives--not if they have to keep calling the company each day before they may or may not be working, and may or may not get paid.  The employee's personal life is placed on hold, at the whim of the company.  The budget life is completely at the whim of the company, as the employee may not know if they'll have enough work to make enough money to pay for the monthly living expenses.  

 How much more control can companies get from their employees? 

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