A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift

New York Times, By Steven Greenhouse, October 27

Spring Valley, CA — Since the Fresh & Easy grocery chain was founded five years ago, it has opened 150 stores in California and positioned itself as a hip, socially responsible company.

A cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, the company brags that its house brands have no artificial colors or trans fats, that two-thirds of its produce is grown locally and that its main distribution center is powered by a $13 million solar installation.

But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees work part-time, with its stores changing many of their workers’ schedules week to week.


“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation’s major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs.

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

“Many employers now schedule shifts as short as two or three hours, while historically they may have scheduled eight-hour shifts,” said David Ossip, founder of Dayforce, a producer of scheduling software used by chains like Aéropostale and Pier One Imports.

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  • And for many employers in NY at least, the eligiblity for some benefits depends on hours/week. I know our local supermarket tries to keep hours under 30/week to save on their benefit expenses.

    I am currently in the limbo between wage & salary status – my hours were cut to 20/week and I’m thus accruing less vacation time and I lost dental insurance (would have lost medical but never used the employer’s package). Since I’m still considered ‘salaried’, I don’t get the benefits the unions get and don’t get overtime. I can do the job in 20+ hours because I spent much of the last 10 years cleaning up a system that was pure garbage when I came onboard, to the point where it needs less attention now. Guess I got too good for my own good. :=(

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