Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oregon workers, irregular work scheduling and the fight back

Most workers in Oregon now work on jobs where irregular work scheduling is a problematic fact of life. We see it in restaurants, care facilities, retail and some other occupations, and we see it taking the form of workers not having enough time between shifts, irregular schedules, not enough notice of schedule changes, unreasonable hours and cuts in hours, abuse of on-call workers, lack of worker input on scheduling and drop-in/drop-out scheduling. The burden falls especially hard on parents who use daycare, students, people who rent and people working more than one job to make ends meet.

We all know that irregular work schedules create sleeplessness and anxiety and that these produce many negative problems. Oregon workers who have to struggle with irregular scheduling are being pushed to the max, and my experience is that many people in these situations self-medicate, live on coffee and energy drinks and tobaco, burnout and try with varying degrees of success to manage crisis-filled lives. In a better environment, workers might turn to unions or use the low unemployment rate to their advantage and force employers to negotiate. Younger workers are generally not union-conscious and few unions are out there organizing aggressively. The relatively low unemployment numbers have not yet helped create a more favorable situation for Oregon workers, and the employers are still riding high and fast from days when unemployment was high and they had all of the power. And the industries in which irregular scheduling is more problematic have a rhythm and dynamics which work against workers joining unions, protesting and negotiating. The workers depend more on informal networks to find better jobs, although what a "good job" is today is doubtful. We will only see positive changes once workers get organized and support one another.

An important study has just been released taking up irregular scheduling. Ellen K. Scott (University of Oregon), Mary C. King (Portland State), and Raahi Reddy (University of Oregon) have just issued "The Impact on Oregonians of the Rise of Irregular Scheduling." Great work was done by many people on this project. The study is easy to read and understand and can be used right now to back two bills going through the legislature which take up this problem of scheduling. Representatives Gelser and Holvey, backed by the Working Families Party and the United Food and Commercial Workers, are moving these bills forward. SB 828 and related legislation needs to pass.

Check out the report and progress here. Print it out and take it to work or get copies from the Fair Work Week Campaign, LERC or Local 555.

A press conference at the State Capitol today brought in workers who have been victimized by irregular scheduling, union reps and union members, the authors of the study, and Representatives Holvey and Gelser. The workers' testimony was moving and, we hope, will help win support for the bills and for real change.

Our challenges will be in making this a real organizing campaign and then winning against the same forces who oppose higher minimum wages, higher taxes on corporations, ending wage theft and other working-class issues and who have derailed work on irregular scheduling in the past. We're so in the habit of feel-good mobilizing and compromising that we seldom organize and fight. But when we do organize and fight, we always win ground. We're up against Republicans who want to push us backwards and down and Democrats who settle for negotiating over how far back and how far down we'll go. Let's hold Gelser and Holvey to their good words spoken today on behalf of justice and support them when they do the right thing.

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