We’ve talked about this quite a bit and I’m pleased it’s getting attention:
Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers. Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when. Big-box retailers or mall clothing chains are now capable of bringing in more hands in anticipation of a delivery truck pulling in or the weather changing, and sending workers home when real-time analyses show sales are slowing. Managers are often compensated based on the efficiency of their staffing.
Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. “It’s like magic,” said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.
Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.
I talk to parents like this all the time and just listening to the scheduling they have to do exhausts me, particularly because they make so little money. I sit there and wonder when they’ll figure out that working under these conditions makes no sense for them, and just give up. I don’t want them to give up and I admire the hell out of them for trying but there’s so little reward for working and so much downside that it has to occur to some portion of them that we have made it nearly impossible for them to get out of this trap. One of the big draws for factory work versus service work in this county isn’t the pay which sometimes sucks, and it certainly isn’t the work itself which is often both mindless and physically demanding, it’s that they get a regular schedule. They don’t want “flexibility.” They want consistency and order and predictability because lower-wage people need that more than people who make more money. They have no room for error.
I love this piece because it follows the worker’s chaotic life and includes how that disorder and uncertainty ripples to all of the people who live with the worker and all of the people who provide childcare for low wage workers. It sucks a huge group of people in and makes numerous households subject to the demands of the low wage employer. If there were some PAY attached to this it might make sense for people, but they’re not even making enough to live on.
But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.
No one could manage this well. No one. We’re setting them up to fail and then blaming them when they do fail.