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<nettime> Barbara Garson: Abracadabra: you're a part-timer (Monde Diplom
Patrice Riemens on Thu, 5 Sep 2013 09:52:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Barbara Garson: Abracadabra: you're a part-timer (Monde Diplomatique Blog)

Ater Jaron Lanier's disapearance of the middle-class jobs, it's a kind
of 'You ain't seen nuthin' yet!' ...

original to:

Abracadabra: you?re a part-timer
How corporate America used the great recession to turn good jobs into bad

20 August 2013, by Barbara Garson

Watch closely: I?m about to demystify the sleight-of-hand by which
good jobs were transformed into bad jobs, full-time workers with
benefits into freelancers with nothing, during the dark days of the
Great Recession.

First, be aware of what a weird economic downturn and recovery
this has been. From the end of an ?average? American recession, it
ordinarily takes slightly less than a year to reach or surpass the
previous employment peak. But in June 2013 ? four full years after
the official end of the Great Recession ? we had recovered only 6.6
million jobs, or just three-quarters of the 8.7 million jobs we lost.

Here?s the truly mysterious aspect of this ?recovery?: 21% of the
jobs lost during the Great Recession were low wage, meaning they paid
$13.83 an hour or less. But 58% of the jobs regained fall into that
category. A common explanation for that startling statistic is that
the bad jobs are coming back first and the good jobs will follow.

But let me suggest another explanation: the good jobs are here
among us right now ? it?s just their wages, their benefits, and the
long-term security that have vanished.

Consider the experiences of two workers I initially interviewed
for my book Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great
Recession and you?ll see just how some companies used the recession to
accomplish this magician?s disappearing trick. Freelance nation

Ina Bromberg genuinely likes to outfit people. Trim and well dressed
herself, Ina sells petites at the Madison Avenue flagship store
of a designer brand boutique with several hundred outlets. Even
I had heard of the label. I had to ask what its exact place in
the fashion hierarchy was, though. ?We fall into a niche below
Barney?s-Bergdorf-Chanel,? she explained.

In the course of a 20-year career, Ina, now in her sixties, had been
the company?s top-earning national sales associate more than once. Her
loyal clients return each season saying, ?You know what I like. What
have you got for me??

When I first met her during the Great Recession, however, her hours
had been cut back. ?They?ve moved the entire sales staff onto flexible
schedules,? she explained. ?On Thursday, we are told what our schedule
will be for the following week. When they told me my new hours that
first week, it was down to ten. I said, ?Why don?t you just lay me
off? I can collect unemployment.? And [my boss] said, ?No, no, it
won?t be this way every week.??

?Maybe this is their way of sharing the work in order to keep the
experienced people till the recession is over,? I suggested. That used
to be standard practice during a downturn.

Ina didn?t think so. She referred me to an article about her firm on a
fashion website. ?Read the responses,? she said. ?These are by people
who worked in the office ? probably not anymore. They say that in some
of the stores they?ve taken all the full time people and made them
part-time. And with that, there?s no more sick days, no more vacation
days, no more commissions for anyone. They say they?re going to do
that to all the stores, even New York.?

?Do your managers claim that the short hours are just for the       ??
recession I asked. ?Do they thank you for making sacrifices till    ??
business picks up                                                   ??

?Not that I ever heard,? Ina answered. ?I think ? and I?ve been saying
this for a year and a half ? their ultimate goal is to have all
part-time sales people working shifts of four-and-a-half hours. That
way they?re not responsible for lunch, they have a lot of bodies, they
pay no commissions, no benefits, and it?s a constant turnover. This
is what I think they want even after the recession because,? here she
leaned in as though to reveal a secret, ?they haven?t stopped hiring
people.? She checked to see if I grasped the significance of that.

I did and so did her fellow saleswomen, but it?s hard to go
job-hunting during a recession. While a few of the old professionals
had already left, most were holding on, chewing over any bits of
information they could pick up that might indicate management?s
intentions. ?In our store we know they?ve continued the health
benefits until March,? Ina said. ?What will happen after is what we?re
trying to find out.?

Eventually, the company broke the suspense. Managers called the
remaining full-timers into the office and gave them two choices. They
could take a small severance package and collect unemployment or they
could stay at truncated versions of their old jobs if they wished,
but as part-timers with no benefits and no commissions. In a way, the
company had made government unemployment benefits a part of its buyout
package. They were saying, in effect: you go voluntarily and we?ll
agree that we laid you off.

Four years after the official end of the recession I interviewed Ina
again. She was the only one of the former sales staff still working
there. Her earnings were less than a quarter of what they?d been a few
years earlier.

?I can afford to retire,? she assured me. ?In a way, I already am. I
just like coming out of the house and seeing my regular customers. But
everyone who had to support themselves left. All the new people are
young,? Ina complained. ?They have no commitment to the job. They skip
days whenever they feel like it.

?But why shouldn?t they?? she said suddenly, reversing her judgmental
tone. ?It used to be if you missed a day, you missed a chance to earn
commissions. It mattered. But at nine or ten dollars an hour, if they
have something else to do they skip it.

?The job is only worth it if you?re a college student and the hours
are a perfect fit for your schedule. If that changes the next term,
they leave. And it doesn?t seem to make a difference to the company.
They treat employees like nothing now. I don?t mean it has to be a
family, but it isn?t even a team.?

I recently checked her company?s website under ?careers? and it was
true; they were advertising for more than 70 sales assistants for
their various North American stores. All but one of the positions was
listed as part-time. The sole full time job happened to be in Canada.

In other words, under the shadow of the recession, the company hadn?t
sent jobs offshore or eliminated them. It had simply replaced decently
paying full-time employment, including benefits, with low-wage,
contingent employment without benefits. It had, that is, pulled the
old switcheroo, turning good jobs into bad ones on premises. Entering
the freelance life

Here?s how the same magic trick works a little higher up the food

Greg Feldman was a full-time professional doing computer graphics for
an educational publisher which produces test preparation materials for
school districts. One day during the recession, his company laid off
some 20 staffers including him. As far as I can tell, its business
wasn?t declining. (Standardized test prep must be one of the last
things desperate school districts cut.)

?When I got home I went into panic mode,? Feldman remembered. ?I said
I better redo my resume before the weekend. And I did. But there were
a couple of openings I could have applied for that day ? one full
time, one long-term temp. But I waited till after the weekend to send
it in. That was in November [2008] and this is February [2009]. I?m
on the websites every day and I haven?t come across any other regular
staff positions since those two.?

Four years later Feldman was piecing together his living by combining
a steady but low-paying part-time job with freelance gigs. He still
considers himself unemployed. Whenever we speak he enumerates the new
computer graphics programs he?s mastered and asks me about job leads.

But is Feldman really unemployed by post-recession standards? He may
not have a full-time job with his old company, but neither does just
about anyone else who did the work he used to do for them. It?s by no
means impossible, I once suggested to Feldman, that he himself might
wind up working for his old firm through a subcontractor.

?Possible but not likely,? he answered. ?What I heard is that they
send that work overseas now.? The good old switcheroo

When America?s industrial workers were hit hard in the 1970s and
1980s, the excuse for breaking their unions, lowering their wages,
and outsourcing their work was that we had to compete with foreign
manufacturers. But not to worry, it was then suggested, there might
be tough times ahead for a few blue-collar troglodytes who couldn?t
be retrained, but the rest of us would soon be data manipulators in a
booming postindustrial society.

Feldman is as postindustrial as you can get and his former company
doesn?t even compete with foreign firms. It seems, though, that
corporate headquarters no longer needs excuses or explanations to make
workers cheaper and more replaceable.

The recession itself certainly doesn?t explain such job
transformations. Traditionally, during recessions employers reduced
hours or laid people off in a way that would enable them to
reconstitute an experienced work force when business picked up. In the
meantime, they competed on price and took less profit. As a result,
the share of national income that went to owners and investors used
to decline during such periods, while the share that went to workers
actually rose.

No longer. Ina?s and Greg?s employers used the downturn to dump entire
departments and reorganize themselves so that the same work, the same
jobs, requiring the same skills, would henceforth, in good times and
bad, be done by contingent workers. Many other companies seem to be
doing the same thing. One sign of that: during the course of the Great
Recession corporate profits went up by 25%-30%, while wages as a share
of national income fell to their lowest point since that number began
to be recorded after World War II.

According to the latest Labor Department figures, 65% of the jobs
added to the economy in July 2013 were part-time. The average hourly
wage fell slightly. Interpreters of those statistics will make it
sound as though it?s simply a matter of factories firing and burger
joints hiring. That, at least, would be a situation that could be
reversed over time. If, however, golden jobs are being transmuted into
lead by the reverse alchemy described in this piece, then they?re not
coming back gradually, certainly not without a growing labor movement
and a fight.

I checked back recently with Ina Bromberg to see if anything had
changed for the saleswomen in her store as the nation crawled into
what?s now called ?recovery.?

?The hours are creeping back up,? she said, and pointed to an irony.
?When they started all this they told us that short shifts make us
more efficient. Now, they?re letting a few people work, six, seven,
even eight hours some days.?

I asked if benefits and commission were also creeping back.

?Of course not!? she answered.

?It?s sad in a way,? Ina mused. ?If one of these young women gets
eight hours for a while, she?ll think she has a regular job. None of
them can remember what a regular job was like.?

Ina is describing a perfect sleight of hand. Good jobs disappeared
into bad jobs so deftly that hardly anyone has noticed the switcheroo.
Soon enough the zombie jobs that replace the real ones will move
among us as if they were normal. If you sense that there?s something
missing, there must be something wrong with you. Get with the program.
We?re becoming a freelance nation.


Barbara Garson is the author of a series of books describing American
working lives at historical turning points, including All the Livelong
Day (1975), The Electronic Sweatshop (1988), and Money Makes the World
Go Around (2001). Her new book is Down the Up Escalator: How the 99%
Live in the Great Recession (Doubleday).

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