SHORTER WORK-TIME NEWS

 

ISSUE #11, August 20, 1998

 

The Shorter Work-Time Group (SWTGp) is a grassroots non-profit project which challenges America’s workaholic culture, public and workplace policies. Our goal is to build a national movement for good shorter work-time policies by providing news about shorter work-time developments; networking shorter work-time advocates; and bringing the work-time issue into public discussion and the public policy arena.

Overwork and work-time imbalances (too much work for some of us, underemployment and unemployment for others) harm our personal, family, and community lives and workplaces. We believe that both women and men will benefit from good shorter work-time policies which allow us to work less and have more control over our time while receiving decent wages and benefits. We encourage public education, legislation, collective bargaining, and employer and community initiatives for reduced work hours, more flexible scheduling, paid leaves, longer vacations, and other policies which serve workers’ time and financial needs.

The SWTGp was founded in 1988 by Women for Economic Justice. We are now a project of the Commonwealth Institute. Our activities include public education, networking, national newsletter and publications, media outreach, conferences, speakers, and policy analysis. Shorter Work-Time Group Advisory Board: Roz Feldberg, Mary Jo Hetzel, Linda Johnson, Barbara Neely, Laurie Sheridan, Terri Small-Turner, and Laurie Taymor-Berry. Staffperson: Barbara Brandt. The SWTGp is a member of the "North American Network for Shorter Hours of Work" (NANSHOW). Please write to us at:

Shorter Work-Time Group, c/o 69 Dover St., #1

Somerville, MA 02144, USA, (617) 628-5558

(This newsletter is also published on the web-site of the "U.S. Shorter Work-Time Network," www.swt.org, with thanks to Webmaster Robert Bernstein.)

Yes, our last Issue, #10, was published almost 2 years ago, in November 1996. During 1997 we were so deeply involved with organizing and follow-up for our Boston-area Conference (see p. 5) that we couldn’t work on this newsletter. We hope you agree that the latest developments reported herein make up for the long wait. Newsletter editor Barbara Brandt thanks our summer intern Rachel Miller for her help in researching and writing this issue.)

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Your editor has been involved with the shorter work-time issue for the past 10 years. In my opinion, we do not yet have a shorter work-time movement in the U.S. What we do have in mid-1998 is a small but growing national network of individuals and a few organizations who believe that we live in an overworked society, and that reduced work hours should be a priority workplace/ worklife and public policy goal.

But over the last 2 years, the mainstream media, some politicians and other influential opinionmakers have begun to recognize and talk about the pain of our overworked lives, and the harm it causes to our families, communities, children, workplaces, health, and even the environment. I sense that we are almost on the verge of a widespread, conscious public movement for shorter work-time. I can’t predict when it will surface; who will spearhead it; or what its specific demands will be. But it is coming, as you can see from the stories in this newsletter.

In order to bring our perspectives into the emerging discussion, we conclude with an editorial on where this incipient movement could go. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback!

 

UNPAID OVERTIME: THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

 

Business Ethics magazine reports on both the growing social responsibility and the "dirty little secrets" of American business. In its July-August 1998 cover story on unpaid overtime, BE’s editor Marjorie Kelly claims that the unethical and illegal practice of requiring employees to work more than 40 hours a week, while not paying them any money at all for their overtime hours, has now become standard American business practice. By forcing employees to work extra—unpaid—hours, employers are able to keep costs down while increasing profits, which makes their stock more attractive to investors. (While this may seem obvious, it is impressive to see it so openly in a business-oriented magazine.)

How widespread is this disturbing practice? In 1995 the Employment Policy Foundation, a conservative Washington D.C. think tank, estimated that employees are denied $19 billion a year in unpaid overtime. In 1997, the U.S. Dept. of Labor ruled that employees who brought suits on this issue were owed $82 million. Why didn’t more employees sue? Kelly points to the loss of power by unions, the lack of clout by Dept. of Labor staff and investigators, and the fact that employees are often afraid to speak out for fear of being fired.

Nevertheless, class-action suits demanding unpaid overtime are currently pending on behalf of workers such as pharmacists at Wal-Mart, service technicians at Sears, and brokers at Prudential Securities, Paine Webber, and Dean Witter. Suits have also been brought recently by retail and grocery workers, poultry-plant workers, and even by senior police officers against the Chicago Police Department.

According to Attorney Jonathan Alpert, most employees deprived of overtime pay are lower-paid women such as secretaries, sales assistants, and service techs. Kelly explains that employers avoid paying overtime by: not keeping records of overtime work; falsely calling required overtime work "voluntary"; and incorrectly classifying their employees as "exempt" from overtime pay.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR OVERTIME PAY?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed by Congress in 1938, established the 40-hour workweek with time-and-a-half (overtime) pay for any work over 40 hours. It covers most "waged" ("hourly") employees. Groups such as "salaried" executives, administrators, and professionals are exempt from FLSA coverage and may be paid a set weekly salary no matter how many hours they work. But the FLSA definition of what constitutes an "exempt" professional is extremely narrow.

You do not have to be paid overtime if you do work that is intellectual,

varied in character, and cannot be accomplished according to a time schedule. You must spend no more than 20 percent of your working time on routine, non- professional work, and you must meet all these criteria, plus others, every week.

So if you are a CPA who keeps ordinary books; or a nurse who spends many hours filling out routine paperwork; or a pharmacist who is docked for taking time off; or a "manager" who is required to clean your store and stock shelves; then even if your job description says that you are a "salaried professional" you probably should be paid overtime. Depriving workers of their overtime pay is a scandal which we should be talking about widely, says Kelly.

(ED. NOTE: Bravo to Business Ethics for bringing this problem to public attention! Our one criticism is that this article focuses solely on the pay issue. We think no one should have to work 50-60-70-80 or more hours a week, even if they are paid time-and-a-half to do so!)

***Marjorie Kelly, "Unpaid Overtime," Business Ethics, July-Aug. 1998,

pp. 12-14. Back issues, $9.95. For info or reprints, contact Business Ethics,

2845 Harriet Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55408; 1-800-601-9010.)

 

SOFTWARE INDUSTRY WANTS LONG HOURS, NOT OLDER WORKERS

Computer software professionals are notorious for working long hours. Accord- ing to the June 15, 1998 Boston Globe, while employers now claim they can’t find enough qualified workers, older software professionals say this so-called labor shortage is due to age bias and employers’ desire for young, cheap labor from recent college graduates and immigrants, who will work long hours for low pay.

The software industry claims that colleges and universities are not turning out enough computer programmers, systems analysts, scientists, and engineers to meet their needs, and is therefore pushing Congress to increase the number of visas for immigrants with high-tech skills. But 17% (that’s seventeen percent)

of information technology professionals in the U.S. age 50 and older are currently unemployed. Many industry observers claim that employers will not hire older workers (which in the computer industy means age 35 and up) because they don’t want the intensity and long hours that traditionally go with these jobs. Said one 43-year-old software developer, a father of 2 young children, "Companies really don’t want older people with families or obligations. We can’t work 60 to 80 hours per week, and they know it."

Desperate software companies are offering potential employees everything from extra financial incentives to adventure retreats in exotic locales.

(ED. NOTE: Not only older professionals, but even some younger ones now tell us they are fed up with the software industry’s workaholic culture. They want a life! Our advice to employers: The best incentive for attracting good employees is a reasonable work schedule, including good part-time options.)

***Diane E. Lewis, "Software job glut eludes older workers," Boston Globe, June 15, 1998, p. A-1. ***

OVERWORK IS BAD FOR BOTH WORKERS AND THEIR WORKPLACES:

"THE 1997 NATIONAL STUDY OF THE CHANGING WORKFORCE"

The Families and Work Institute is a respectable, professional non-profit organization which researches the changing nature of work and family life in the U.S. and makes recommendations for improved workplace policies. Much of their support comes from corporate funding. So it is significant that their most recent national study, released in May 1998, emphasizes the prevalence of job stress, pressure, and overwork. It documents how these problems not only harm employees and their families in their homes, but also lead to undesirable workplace consequences such as reduced commitment to the employer, weaker job performance and productivity, lower job satisfaction, and higher turnover. This study presents the most comprehensive data we have ever seen to support what we have been saying for the last 10 years.

According to this study, counting both paid and unpaid hours, Americans now average 44 hours per week on the job--6 hours more than officially scheduled. In 1992, 47% of U.S. workers wanted shorter hours. In 1997, 63% of American employees want to work less. Men now average about 49 hours of work per week, women 42 hours, and both genders would prefer to work about 11 hours less per week "if they could." 46% work longer hours than they wish because they need the money; 20% because their employers do not allow them to reduce their hours; and 16% in order to help their companies succeed.

Among its conclusions, this study recommends that "To improve and sustain productivity over the long run, employers must not only create supportive workplace environments, but also work with employees to keep job demands in check so they do not endanger personal and family well-being." Wow!

This study also contains valuable data on life off the job, feelings about working mothers, young workers, racial diversity and discrimination, obligations to older relatives, and the most desired workplace benefits. (What workers desire most is usually some kind of shorter or more flexible work schedule.) This is a really important study. If you or your organization can’t afford it, then urge your library to buy a copy so you can use it.

***James T. Bond, Ellen Galinsky, Jennifer Swanberg. The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce, 168 pp. $49.00 (+$4.50 bookrate or $8.50 priority). Families and Work Institute, 330 Seventh Ave., N.Y. N.Y. 10001. 212-465-2044.

 

A "SMALL" SHORTER WORK-TIME VICTORY IN MASSACHUSETTS

In President Clinton’s January 1998 State-of-the-Union Message, he proposed a law which would allow working parents up to 24 hours a year off in order to bring their children to medical appointments or to confer with their children’s teachers. Although nothing has yet happened on the federal level, such a law was actually passed in Massachusetts a few months later, on May 6, 1998.

Titled the "Small Necessities Leave Act," this law affects only Massachusetts employers with 50 or more employees—that is only 60% of the workforce. In such workplaces, employees may take a few hours off during the workday (up to 24 hours a year of unpaid leave) for essential and narrowly defined family responsibilities, specifically: taking a child to a medical appointment; participating in school activities; or taking an elderly relative to an appointment relating to his or her care. Workers must request the time off 7 days in advance, and employers may ask for proof of the reason for this absence.

We of the Shorter Work-Time Group would say that this new law is a tiny, and overly restrictve step in the right direction.

***For more information on the "Small Necessities Leave Act," contact Sen. Thomas Birmingham’s office, 617-722-1500, or the Mass. State Attorney General’s "Fair Labor and Business Practices Division," 617-727-3465 or 617-727-3476.

"DOLLARS AND SENSE" TACKLES THE WORK-TIME ISSUE

Dollars and Sense is an influential left-progressive magazine which explains economic theory and current events in everyday language. Their January-February 1998 issue focuses on work-family and work-time concerns. It includes: Feminist analyses of "family-friendly policies" in U.S. workplaces by Barbara Bergmann, and of shorter work-time policies in Europe by Deborah Figart and Ellen Mutari. Part-time and temporary workers in the U.S. today, organizing campaigns for contingent workers rights, and a comparison of "business-friendly flexibility" and "worker-friendly flexibility" by Francoise Carre and Chris Tilly. Strategies to achieve real family-friendly policies in the workplace, by Jane Kiser. A survey by Juliet Schor on feelings about work hours, career success, and trading pay for time off. And Lonnie Golden on a slew of bills that would further weaken the Fair Labor Standards Act, for example by substituting employer-chosen time-off for overtime pay, or replacing the 40-hour full-time workweek with an 80-hour, 2-week standard. These bills are currently stalled in Congress. Golden includes proposals for truly worker-friendly work hours and overtime policies.

This magazine is an excellent resource for shorter work-time advocates.

***January-February 1998 Special Issue on "Work and Family."Dollars and Sense, 1 Summer St., Somerville, MA 02143. 617-628-8411. Back issue, $4.50 each. ***

WHY SOME WORKPLACES NOW OFFER GOOD REDUCED WORK-TIME OPTIONS

U.S. News and World Report’s 1998 annual guide to "Best Jobs for the Future" featured an article about Americans’ growing desires for shorter work time, and examples of workplaces which are responding to this desire. They include firms which shorten workweeks without loss in pay during slow periods; accounting and law firms which allow partners to work less than full time; and telecommuting. These companies offer such good shorter work-time options because they increase productivity and enhance performance, and make employees happier.

Also cited is a 1997 survey done for USNWR by Bozell Advertising on people’s attitudes about work-time. Among its findings: 46% of Americans now feel that society puts too much emphasis on work and not enough on leisure. (In 1986, only 28% felt that way.) 60% of Americans, including 62% of managers, say shorter work hours would give employees an incentive to be more productive. And 65% of Americans now think a movement to shorten the workweek is a good idea. 3/5 of this group think this is a realistic goal, while 2/5 do not.

***Amy Saltzman, "When Less is More," USNWR, Oct. 27, 1997, pp. 78-84.

30/40 PLAN GAINS WIDE INTEREST

The USNWR article also mentions an innovative program now operating in a variety of manufacturing industries around the U.S., and also beginning to move into health care and government offices, in which employees work 30 hours a week for 40 hours pay. (You may have seen this on PBS-TV.) The program was designed by work-shift analyst Ronald Healey, originally in order to attract highly skilled technical employees to jobs which employers were previously unable to fill.

This program has demonstrated two important findings: 1) Workers’ productivity increases with shorter work hours. 2) For many workers, reduced work hours are a more desirable job benefit than a larger paycheck with longer hours.

***30/40 plan: Ron Healey, The 30/40 Company, 14 Stonybrook Dr., Brownsburg,

IN 46112; phone 317-852-6800. ***

APRIL 1997 BOSTON SHORTER WORK-TIME CONFERENCE AVAILABLE ON VIDEO

The Shorter Work-Time Group, in coalition with 30 other Boston-area organizations, sponsored a conference on "Shorter Work-Time: Why We Need It, How We Can Get It" on April 26, 1997 at Boston College. This multi-class, multiracial gathering talked about overwork, work-time and income inequities; their impacts on our personal and family lives, workplaces and communities; and current initiatives and future possibilities for achieving good shorter work-time programs in our workplaces and public policies.

Presenters included Harvard economist Juliet Schor, special guest Anders Hayden of Canada’s "32 HOURS: Action for Full Employment," and speakers from unions, occupational health, parents’ advocates, low-income groups, professional employees, welfare recipients, contingent workers, environmentalists, academics, and the faith community. This conference emphasized both the strong interest in work-time issues among many sectors of society, and the need for movement- building strategies which recognize people’s varied social and economic interests. ***A professionally produced 2-hour, 10-minute VHS videotape of the Boston Shorter Work-Time Conference, featuring all 14 speakers and panelists, is available for $25. (An audiotape version costs $15; both prices include shipping and handling.) It can be used for classes, community organizations, airing on your local-access cable-TV stations or shared with friends and co-workers. Send your name, address, and a check made out to "D.J. Snyder, FTV," c/o Friends though Video, 6 Park St., Westfield, MA 01085. Delivery will be within 3 weeks.

 

WE’RE OVERWORKED AND UNDEREMPLOYED—UNRAVELING A MODERN-DAY ENIGMA

Juliet Schor’s groundbreaking 1991 book The Overworked American, which claimed that over the last 20 years average U.S. work hours have increased, helped catalyze public awareness of the shorter work-time issue. An obvious criticism of Schor’s thesis is that during the past decade the numbers of less than full-time-workers has also increased dramatically. (Some estimates suggest that almost 30% of the U.S. workforce is now part-time or temporary.)

Seeking to explain this apparent contradiction, economists Barry Bluestone and Stephen Rose found that 1) Full-time workers are indeed working on average longer hours than 20 years ago. 2) Because of growing job instability, many workers face a "feast or famine" cycle, working as many hours as possible when work is available, and experiencing short workweeks, temporary layoffs, or permanent job loss in between. 3) American families as a whole are putting more time into paid work than 20 years ago. But because of rising costs and the shrinking value of the dollar, this "extra" income now brought in by two workers is merely keeping them in place, not raising their standard of living. 4) As a group, Black males suffer most from job insecurity, being least able to obtain full-time, full-year jobs.

Bluestone and Rose cite data which suggests that most Americans do not earn enough, and although they would prefer to work less, they cannot afford to. They conclude that a political movement for shorter work-time must include policies for improving our material standard of living.

*** Barry Bluestone and Stephen Rose, "Overworked and Underemployed," The American Prospect, March-April 1997, pp. 58-69. To obtain a single copy for classroom or personal use, fax request to Lauren Horwitz, 617-547-3896. For bulk copies, contact Amy Butcher, 617-547-2950.

 

"LIVING BETTER, WORKING LESS: THE OUTCOME OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROGRESS"

Economist Dan Aronson explores how our society’s continual improvements in efficiency and productivity can improve our quality of life by leading to both a healthier environment and enabling us to work less. Aronson discusses how efficiency improvements in fossil fuel use, transportation, and agriculture can reduce costs while improving our lives; economic incentives and disincentives for environmentally beneficial policies; the growing interest among Americans for reduced work-time; how by more equitably sharing the benefits of increased productivity, we can reduce the workweek without a cut in pay; and why both liberals and conservatives, business and labor can support these proposals.

We recommend this essay for anyone interested either in economic policies which can facilitate reduced worktime, especially without loss in pay; or in the links between work-time and environmental issues. Aronson writes in a popular style, making technical economic concepts understandable to all.

***You can read (or download) Aronson’s 23-page essay, "Living Better, Working Less" from the Shorter Work-Time Network’s website, www.swt.org. Or to obtain a paper copy, write Prof. Dan Aronson, Business Dept., Raritan Valley Community College, P.O. Box 3300, Somerville, NJ 08876.

***Prof. Aronson has also condensed his essay into a one-page "Op.Ed."—

"Reduce the Workweek and See Increased Productivity"—which you can obtain from the Shorter Work-Time Group (see Response Form at end of newsletter).

 

ORGANIZING FOR CONTINGENT WORKERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

We already have a national shorter work-time program in the U.S. It’s called "contingent work." Temporary, part-time, on-call, leased workers, independent, and day laborers now comprise 25%-30% of the U.S. workforce, and this sector continues to grow.

In principle there’s nothing wrong with part-time or temporary work. Millions of Americans would be happy working less than full-time. But in most cases, contingent workers are subjected to bad shorter work-time policies, treated as "second-class" workers: paid less per hour for doing the same work as their permanent, full-time counterparts, and deprived of health insurance, pensions, paid vacations, seniority, unemployment insurance, and other vital benefits.

In several states, activists are organizing around contingent worker issues. In Massachusetts, the "Campaign on Contingent Work" is educating and organizing temporary workers to fight for their rights. They are also bringing together labor unions and welfare recipients being forced into the job market by a 2-year welfare cut-off, to join in fighting for the rights of all workers.

The Campaign is also supporting Massachusetts H.3772, an "Act to Ensure Livable Wage Jobs and Workplace Rights to Contingent Workers," which would require equal pay rates for regular and contingent workers, and provide benefits (some pro-rated) such as maternity leave, health and unemployment insurance to contingent workers. The bill also calls for a "Job-Gap" study, to determine the numbers of unemployed people seeking jobs, and the numbers of available living-wage jobs, especially entry-level, in Massachusetts.

Although H.3772 has received strong support from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and many other organizations and individuals, and has had several hearings, it is still stuck in committee.

***For more information on H.3772, contact State Rep. Patricia Jehlen, Mass. State House, Room 275, Boston, MA 02133; phone 617-722-2676. Also, the Campaign on Contingent Work, 33 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111; phone 617-338-9966.

 

CANADIAN SHORTER WORK-TIME MOVEMENT GROWS

Last year, Canada’s "32 HOURS: Action for Full Employment" conducted discussions with key sectors of Canadian society, including labor, business, lowincome people, women, and environmentalists about their interest in reduced work-time. Since Canada has recently been suffering from unemployment as high as 11%, the link between shorter hours and job creation was an important issue.

Participants in these "sectoral dialogues" added their concerns. Strategic discussions also considered promotion of voluntary reductions in work hours, and mobilizing to change business and government policies. Following their November 22, 1997 Wrap-Up Conference, "32 HOURS" was re-funded by the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, and will move ahead this year on pilot shorter work-time projects, expanded outreach especially to faith communities and youth, and campaign design.

***We highly recommend 32 HOURS’ excellent quarterly newsletter, Better Times, (now also representing Canada’s Shorter Work-Time Network). In addition to Canada-specific information, it features the latest developments from the U.S. and internationally, plus practical, theoretical, and political concerns which are quite relevant to the U.S. situation. Their June 1998 issue had extensive coverage of European shorter workweek developments.

To receive Better Times ($10/yr), or for a "Summary Report" of their "Sectoral Dialogues/November 22, 1997 Conference" contact Anders Hayden or Mark Hudson, 32 HOURS, 238 Queen St. West-Lower Level, Toronto, ONT M5V 1Z7, Canada; phone 416-392-1658, freetime@web.net. ***

EDITORIAL: BUILDING A BROAD-BASED SHORTER WORK-TIME MOVEMENT

By Barbara Brandt, Staffperson, Shorter Work-Time Group

(Note: The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect official policy of the Shorter Work-Time Group. Your responses to this editorial are invited!)

A movement for good shorter work-time policies in the U.S. is on the verge of being born. Recognizing the diverse social and economic needs and situations of those involved, I offer the following BASIC PRINCIPLES to guide such a movement:

1. People should not be imprisoned by long work hours. Every American deserves enough time for personal life, family life, community participation, personal and spiritual development, and leisure.

2. Shorter work-time is a central parent-and-family issue; but every worker deserves enough time for living, whether or not they have parenting or family responsibilities.

3. Both women and men should have the right to perform paid work which provides a decent standard of living; and both men and women should have ample time to participate in home and family life, its joys and responsibilities.

4. Millions of overworked Americans desperately want to go back down to a 40-hour week. We must support a reduction in overtime hours, and simultaneously push for a new, shorter "full-time" standard, e.g. 32 or 30 hours per week.

5. Some people can afford to work fewer hours with reduced pay. (Various surveys say between 25%-51% of the workforce.) Individuals who can voluntarily afford to work less should be allowed and encouraged to do so.

6. Some working people can afford to work shorter hours only if they do not lose pay. They need policies which reduce the workweek while maintaining 40 hours pay.

7. For our lowest paid workers--30% of the workforce—even a 40-hour-a-week job ("full-time pay") is not sufficient to raise a family out of poverty. Since low-income people must work more than full-time to survive, the only meaningful shorter work-time policy for them is a pay raise.

8. Employers can afford to reduce work hours without reducing pay. Shorter hours and less worker stress increase productivity. Furthermore, employers should be sharing their exorbitant profits with the workers who created them, rather than siphoning off productivity gains to top management and outside stockholders.

9. While politics is considered the art of the practical, we must not lose sight of more radical shorter work-time ideals, which human desires, technological advances, and ecological sustainability make possible—for example, a 20-hour workweek could be our ultimate goal. The above lead to the following.

POLICY PROPOSALS FOR A COMPREHENSIVE SHORTER WORK-TIME CAMPAIGN:

1. Challenge our society’s workaholic culture. Every individual, regardless of gender, race, occupation, or income level, should have the right to enough time for a full life outside of paid work.

2. Establish a new 35, 32, or 30-hour "full-time" standard, for 40 hours pay.

3. Provide full benefits to all workers: full-time, part-time, and temporary.

4. Raise the minimum wage to above poverty level (at least $7.50/hour).

5. Expand the Fair Labor Standards Act, requiring overtime pay for all workers, blue-collar, white-collar, service, administrative, or professionals.

6. Legislate a cap on overtime work, eg. maximum 48 hours of work per week.

7. Prohibit mandatory overtime.

8. Mandate adequate job-protected paid leave for family and elder care obligations, e.g. at minimum, 24 weeks off to care for a new child.

(Special thanks to the staff of "United for a Fair Economy" for our discussions on these issues.) ***

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