Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Short-Shifted: How Retail Giants are Making Workers’ Jobs More Unstable & Unpredictable

Job quality matters. Growing employment means little to the region’s economic bottom line unless new jobs are quality jobs; they must not only pay well, but be stable, flexible and predictable for workers. When workers can predict their monthly income and work hours, they are able to pay bills on time, provide regular care for their children, maintain stable housing and make investments of both time and money in their communities.  All that leads to economic growth and thriving communities.

However grocery and retail giants are finding new ways to target their workers to drive down their costs and drive up profits. The growing trend? Pass the risk of changing consumer demands on to their employees. Here is how it works. Rather than hiring people into full-time, regular jobs, grocery giants push their employees into part-time, fluctuating schedules. As a result, workers’ hours per week fluctuate and consequently, so does their pay. Walmart, the #1 retailer in the world, has gained attention for denying their workers full-time employment and regular schedules.

At Puget Sound Sage we surveyed grocery and supercenter workers in King County, and found that grocery and supercenter employers frequently create worker schedules that are unstable, unpredictable and inflexible.  Click here to read a copy of our policy brief.

Scheduling Brief Figure 1

Workers Schedules are Unstable:

Of the workers surveyed, the majority (57%) reported that in the last 3 months, the difference between the most and least weekly hours they were assigned varied by 10 or more hours. This means that the majority of workers experienced changes in hours as severe as being assigned 35 hours one week, but only 25 hours the following week. For workers living paycheck to paycheck, this change is significant. Surveyed workers averaged $12.18/hour. At this hourly rate a 10-hour change in schedule equals a pay cut of $122/week.

Scheduling Brief Figure 2

As Corporations Drive Down Job Quality, Cost to Tax-Payers May Go Up:

The instability, unpredictability and inflexibility of corporate scheduling practices are one part of a larger pattern of employer actions that are driving down the quality of jobs, especially for workers in the grocery and retail industry. Other such practices include failing to provide paid sick leave and making employees work through breaks. Additionally, part-time employees in the retail sector are at risk of losing work hours as more and more profitable corporations seek to get around the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

For more information on how scheduling can affect workers’ access to health insurance read our report on Washington’s Changing Workforce. Stay tuned to Sound Progress to read the next in our series on the survey regarding paid sick leave and missed breaks.

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