Sunday, August 17, 2014

Work scheduling software creates havoc on low wage employees' lives

I found this NY Times story on both Daily Kos, and Kevin Drum:

SAN DIEGO — In a typical last-minute scramble, Jannette Navarro, a 22-year-old Starbucks barista and single mother, scraped together a plan for surviving the month of July without setting off family or financial disaster.
In contrast to the joyless work she had done at a Dollar Tree store and a KFC franchise, the $9-an-hour Starbucks job gave Ms. Navarro, the daughter of a drug addict and an absentee father, the hope of forward motion. She had been hired because she showed up so many times, cheerful and persistent, asking for work, and she had a way of flicking away setbacks — such as a missed bus on her three-hour commute — with the phrase, “I’m over it.”
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.

“You’re waiting on your job to control your life,” she said, with the scheduling software used by her employer dictating everything from “how much sleep Gavin will get to what groceries I’ll be able to buy this month.”

Last month, she was scheduled to work until 11 p.m. on Friday, July 4; report again just hours later, at 4 a.m. on Saturday; and start again at 5 a.m. on Sunday. She braced herself to ask her aunt, Karina Rivera, to watch Gavin, hoping she would not explode in annoyance, or worse, refuse. She vowed to somehow practice for the driving test that she had promised her boyfriend she would pass by the previous month. To stay awake, she would formulate her own behind-the-counter coffee concoctions, pumping in extra shots of espresso.

Like increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers, Ms. Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers. Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when. Big-box retailers or mall clothing chains are now capable of bringing in more hands in anticipation of a delivery truck pulling in or the weather changing, and sending workers home when real-time analyses show sales are slowing. Managers are often compensated based on the efficiency of their staffing.

Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. “It’s like magic,” said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.
Welcome to the world of Just-In-Time-Scheduling.   Just-In-Time is a production strategy where manufacturers reduce inventory, waste, and storage costs by ordering only enough parts to manufacture the product at the right time, right place, and right amount.  This type of manufacturing process started in the 1950s with Japanese car companies, and is pretty much adopted on a world-wide basis by manufacturers today.  Well, the Just-In-Time manufacturing model is now being adopted by companies for creating work schedules of employees in order to wring out even more efficiency.  Employees' work schedules are no longer created by managers, but rather sophisticated computer programs which factor in sales trends, economic indicators, and even weather patterns, to create a company work schedule with the right number of employees for both the day, and the hour.  The problem with these "workforce optimization systems"  is that they reduce the employee to a number that can be plugged in anywhere on a schedule to the benefit of the company's efficiency, while at the same time creating a havoc to the employee's work / life balance.  That employee will not have a regular, stable, weekly shift from they can both plan their life around and budget a stable paycheck.  Again from the NY Times:

Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.
In Brooklyn, Sandianna Irvine often works “on call” hours at Ashley Stewart, a plus-size clothing store, rushing to make arrangements for her 5-year-old daughter if the store needs her. Before Martha Cadenas was promoted to manager at a Walmart in Apple Valley, Minn., she had to work any time the store needed; her mother “ended up having to move in with me,” she said, because of the unpredictable hours. Maria Trisler is often dismissed early from her shifts at a McDonald’s in Peoria, Ill., when the computers say sales are slow. The same sometimes happens to Ms. Navarro at Starbucks.
By Saturday afternoon of the Fourth of July weekend, Ms. Navarro had made it through “clopening,” closing late at night and opening again just a few hours later. But she had not yet worked up the courage to ask Ms. Rivera and Ms. Rivera’s boyfriend, Oscar Nuñez, for help the next day with Gavin.
In a sense, Ms. Navarro's entire life--both her work life and personal life--has gone under complete control by Starbucks, all in the name of corporate efficiency.  As a minimum wage worker, her paycheck will fluctuate according to how many hours she will be working for each week.  The shift times will vary, according to when Ms. Navarro's Starbucks store will have their coffee rushes, and even the shift times will have an effect on her--Ms. Navarro does not have a car, and needs to take a bus to work, adding even more time to her commute.  This is an even greater hardship if Ms. Navarro is performing a "clopening," forcing her to sleep on the sidewalk before opening the store.  While Starbucks calls Ms. Navarro's fate"an anomaly," saying the company provides a week's notice on the work schedule as well as a stable schedule per employees' requests.  However, the NY Times interviewed current and recent Starbucks workers at 17 Starbucks stores around the country, and only two have confirmed that they received a week's notice on the schedule, with some employees saying they have received their schedule in as little as one day.

While scheduling software can be a useful, productivity tool, such a tool has been taken to extreme by Starbucks and other companies.  An individual human being has been replaced by a number in these software scheduling programs  to be used to maximize efficiency and profit for the company's benefit.  What is more, as these "numbers" are more likely part-time retail workers, who are at the low end of the social and economic scale with little resources and advancement.  They are one paycheck away from disaster, and if they complain to their managers about their erratic, software optimized, work schedule, they can be easily replaced by new hires.  These part-time retail workers are also trapped in this hellish, company optimized work schedule in that they are denied the stability they will need to take college classes and job training programs to improve their skills.   Ms Navarro was only a "few credits shy of an associates degree in business," before having to place her "degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes." 

We have sold our soul to the company store.

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