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Is on-call work unfair to workers?

Workers in the U.S. have faced many challenges over the last 30 years. Many jobs left this country as a huge number of manufacturing and garment industry jobs were shipped overseas to low-wage countries. This depleted many unions to the point of irrelevance, and as unions lost power, wages stagnated or fell.

As more and more employment moved to low-pay areas, like retail and fast-food, those workers have now been subjected to yet one more indignity. Many are forced to call in every day, the evening before, or just before they are scheduled to start, to find out if they still have a shift to work. Not only are they often working for minimum wage, but they never know how many hours they may work in a week.

At one time, in some businesses, part-time employees received schedules in advance and could be certain that they could work 20 to 30 hours per week. Now even that minimal courtesy has been eliminated. This week, the New York Attorney General's office sent letters to retailers, investigating the practice.

While on-call shifts benefit the employer, allowing them to use computerized precision to bring workers in only for maximum effect, and to prevent the greatest of all "sins" in the modern, corporate workplace, that of workers standing around with nothing to do. Instead, computerized scheduling algorithms can ensure that the few workers who are on staff are operating at more than 100 percent utilitization.

This may benefit the bottom line, but on-call shifts work havoc on the personal lives of the worker, leaving them unable to schedule car maintenance or doctor's appointments, as they need to be at their employer's constant and instant beck and call.

They are also left with the stress of never knowing it they will have enough hours to cover basics such as food and rent. In addition, because of the miserable wage rates some workers may work more than one part-time job. This can become impossible if both employers use such randomized scheduling.

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