Some Retail Workers Find Better Deals With Unions

From NYT September 7 by Rachel Swarns:

By now, the hardships endured by retail workers at clothing stores across New York City are achingly familiar: the frantic scramble to get assigned enough hours to earn a living on painfully low wages; the ever-changing, on-call schedules that upend child care arrangements, college schedules and desperate efforts to find second jobs.

Workers and government officials around the country are increasingly pushing for change. But for an example of more humane workplaces, there is no need to jet to Sweden or Denmark or Mars. We need look no farther than Midtown Manhattan, no farther than Herald Square.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right onto the escalators and glide on up to the sixth floor. Allow me to introduce you to Debra Ryan, a sales associate in the Macy’s bedding department.

For more than two decades, Ms. Ryan has guided shoppers in the hunt for bedroom décor, helping them choose between medium-weight and lightweight comforters, goose-down and synthetic pillows, and sheets and blankets in a kaleidoscope of colors.

But here is what’s truly remarkable, given the current environment in retail: Ms. Ryan knows her schedule three weeks in advance. She works full time and her hours are guaranteed. She has never been sent home without pay because the weather was bad or too few customers showed up for a Labor Day sale on 300-thread-count sheets.

This is no fantasy. This is real life, in the heart of New York.

“I’m able to pay my rent, thank God, and go on vacation, at least once a year,” Ms. Ryan said. “There’s a sense of security.”

So what makes this Macy’s store so different? Its employees are represented by a union, which has insisted on stability in scheduling for its members. (Union workers enjoy similar scheduling arrangements at the Bloomingdale’s, H&M and Modell’s Sporting Goods stores in Manhattan.)

Now, I know the term “union” is a dirty word in some circles, even in this city, where labor still has considerable clout and has catapulted many workers into the middle class. But no one can deny that these union workers savor something that is all too rare in the retail industry right now: guaranteed minimum hours — for part-time and full-time employees — and predictable schedules.

This is no accident.

Read the entire article here.

When Tech Makes Work Worse

From yesterday’s NYT “Op-Talk” Blog by Anna North:

When we talk about robots taking people’s jobs, we often mean it almost literally — we envision if not the humanoid androids of science fiction, then at least machines programmed to do tasks once done by humans. But technology may also be altering Americans’ working lives in another way, via the software and hardware that companies use to determine when and how they work.

Read the entire article here.

Editorial: “Why You Hate Work”

From NYT “SundayReview” by TONY SCHWARTZ and CHRISTINE PORAT:

THE way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

Increasingly, this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also to top executives.

Our company, The Energy Project, works with organizations and their leaders to improve employee engagement and more sustainable performance. A little over a year ago, Luke Kissam, the chief executive of Albemarle, a multibillion-dollar chemical company, sought out one of us, Tony, as a coach to help him deal with the sense that his life was increasingly overwhelming. “I just felt that no matter what I was doing, I was always getting pulled somewhere else,” he explained. “It seemed like I was always cheating someone — my company, my family, myself. I couldn’t truly focus on anything.”

Mr. Kissam is not alone. Srinivasan S. Pillay, a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School who studies burnout, recently surveyed a random sample of 72 senior leaders and found that nearly all of them reported at least some signs of burnout and that all of them noted at least one cause of burnout at work.

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Read the entire article here.

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm. Christine Porath is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant to The Energy Project.

Tax subsidies and incentives to work

From the NYT “Economix” Blog” by Uwe Reinhardt:

Last week a brouhaha erupted over a passage in Appendix C of a Congressional Budget Office report, Budget and Economic Outlook 2014-24.

In that appendix, “Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates,” the agency reported its estimate that the Affordable Care Act “will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor – given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.”

The agency estimated this reduction in hours worked as the “full-time-equivalent workers of about 2 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” The agency hastens to point out that this number does not represent jobs no longer offered by employers but, for the most part, the decision of employees not to work.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act and many news reports quickly seized upon this estimate, characterizing it as “dropping a bomb” or having “nuked” Obamacare. Joseph Rago of The Wall Street Journal attributed this interpretation of the data to an exposé by my fellow Economix blogger Casey B. Mulligan.

Commentators supporting the Affordable Care Act pointed out that the pro-growth effect of the law’s lower health costs would swamp any antigrowth effects from a lower labor supply and that ifsome Americans decided to work less, given the incentives they face, they would yield available jobs to others willing to work but unable to find a job, which on balance would be a good thing.

Read the entire article here.