Discussion of curtailing work-schedule abuses should not encumber the dreams of young people by eliminating the opportunities of part-time work.
DESCRIBING the law of “unintended consequences,” author Rob Norton surmised that “actions of people — and especially of government — always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have ignored it.” Unfortunately, recent actions in Seattle are showing that Norton may know what he is talking about.
Some members of the City Council are eyeing the way businesses schedule their staff. At a recent forum, a few people spoke of closing retail establishments late at night and opening early the next morning on just a few hours’ sleep. Others said they were immediately called into work with no advance notice and endured drastically different schedules from week to week. Calls are being made for legislation that would end these practices.
Who can argue against that? As an organization grounded in social justice, we oppose work environments that create unnecessary hardships for working families and their children. Bringing attention to exploitive workplace conditions should be a priority of every American.
But, we encourage reading the fine print. Addressing abusive scheduling practices is the stated purpose of recent measures in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. But some provisions actually reduce the availability of part-time jobs. Employers in those cities are required to offer available hours to existing employees at the expense of those seeking part-time work.
Respectfully, we disagree with this policy for a couple reasons. First, in targeting part-time work, these ordinances seek to resolve a problem that doesn’t exist. Today’s workforce is a diverse mix of people with varied interests — some wanting 40 hours a week and others who don’t. Flexible part-time work is the choice of many members of our community who balance employment and their education, their retirement, their personal interests in the arts and any number of other scenarios — meaning some people simply do not want, and are not seeking, full-time employment.
Second, and more troubling: If enacted, such a law would punish some of the most vulnerable people in our community — the thousands of disconnected youths living in King County.
Here’s how: Too many young people in Seattle carry heavy burdens, particularly those from poor families. Along with school and homework, they often share in paying household expenses. A disproportionate percentage of these individuals are people of color from single-parent homes where they assist in caring for younger siblings. They might also participate in after-school sports, student government and other character-shaping activities.
We understand the challenges they face. Organizations in Seattle like the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County have been honored to support, guide and mentor young people for decades. Along with providing social and emotional development, leadership and job readiness training, our organization strives to connect young people with potential employers.
Fortunately, many Seattle-area companies are looking for bright, energetic, positive and hardworking additions to their teams. But, infusing this talent requires managers who are willing to schedule around myriad complexities and challenges that define the lives of economically disadvantaged youths.
If managers are limited in the amount of flexibility they can provide, and if part-time employment is reduced, Seattle’s young men and women will suffer. Fewer flexible part-time-employment opportunities mean fewer people would find their all-important first job that provides immediate income and a chance to pursue greater dreams.
We are honored that some City Council members could be alumni of youth-serving organizations and greatly appreciate their knowledge of our work and their compassion for the young people we serve.
Through their own experience, they know that work-eligible teens and young adults from poor families need income. But they also need employers who accept the current demands in their lives and foster their future dreams. Constraining managers would only discourage them from hiring people who have competing outside obligations, taking away the first rung of the ladder of opportunity.
The mission of Boys & Girls Clubs and other Seattle youth-serving organizations is to provide kids with hope and opportunity. We hope the future actions of the City Council will continue to help us achieve that mission.