(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

By Mina Kim and Lisa Pickoff-White

Unpredictable hours and low pay are just some of the challenges that face part-time employees in the modern U.S. workforce. About 7.5 million people nationwide say they’re working part time only because their hours were cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job. And the number of these “involuntary” part-time workers increased by 275,000 people in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the recession, these workers’ numbers skyrocketed. Since then, things have improved, but there are still almost double the amount of involuntary part timers now as there were in 2007.

San Francisco recently passed an ordinance that lets employees ask for predictable work schedules without fear of retaliation. Last month President Obama ordered federal agencies to grant employees the right to request flexible schedules. Now East Bay congressman George Miller plans to introduce a bill that would extend those protections nationally, barring employers from denying workers’ requests for time off because of caregiving or school-related conflicts, unless there is a provable business reason.

“Very often workers get fired when they would like to talk about their schedule, and the owner exercises his complete authority and power and says, ‘You’re fired.’ That’s got to stop. That’s not good for the business enterprise,” Miller said in an interview with KQED Wednesday (audio embedded below).

His proposal would also require companies to pay their employees for an extra hour if they are given less than 24 hours notice of a schedule change. It also guarantees that part-time workers would be paid for at least four hours of work when they are sent home early.

“In some cases workers show up for jobs — they may have commuted an hour, an hour and a half to get there,” Miller said. “Spent money on transportation and then be told we don’t need you today. So what we’re suggesting is, first of all, employees can’t be retaliated against for simply requesting a more flexible or predictable schedule, and that if a worker arrives at work ready to go to work, and then you say that you don’t need them, that they get at least four hours of pay.”

Business associations have been vocal about opposing such regulations, saying they will hurt profits and ultimately the ability to create jobs. The New York Times reports that restaurant and retail groups say the proposals turn employee scheduling into an onerously bureaucratic process:

“The hyper-regulation of the workplace by government isn’t conducive to a positive business climate,” said Scott DeFife, an executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association. “The more complications that government creates for operating a business, the less likely we’ll see a positive business environment that’s good for the economy and increasing jobs.”

Mr. DeFife pointed out that the daily ebb and flow of customers necessitated flexibility in scheduling.

David French, a senior vice president of the National Retail Federation, said many people chose careers in retail because of the flexible work hours.

“These proposals may sound reasonable, but if you unpack them, they could be very harmful,” Mr. French said. “Where employers and employees now work together to solve scheduling problems, you’ll have a very bureaucratic environment where rigid rules would be introduced.”

  • Candid Curmudgeon

    Hey George, quit taking baby steps to get what you really want. Just “nationalize” all private companies and then you can make all the hiring decisions. It worked well for Stalin and Mao, didn’t it? How about Cuba and North Korea? That’s the economic model you’re pushing for. Be honest about it.

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