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from The Great Debate:

It’s harder to reach the American dream if you’re reaching all alone

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“Hours of chaos” is how the New York Times described the work reality of more and more Americans. It highlighted Jannette Navarra, a Starbucks barrista, who is regularly forced to work part-time with fluctuating hours. She usually gets her work schedule three days ahead of the workweek, so she is always scrambling to arrange childcare for her son. Any hope Navarra has of advancing by pursuing a degree is shattered by her inability to schedule classes.

These sorts of lousy jobs are the increasing reality for many American workers. They are labeled “contingent” workers -- part-time, temporary, on contract, on call. They generally earn lower wages than fulltime employees, with little or no benefits, and constant insecurity. They now represent one-third, perhaps as much as 40 percent of the workforce.

The Times focused on new technology that allows Starbucks to micro-manage worker hours to fit outlet demand. This really isn’t about technology, however. It’s about power. Workers have less power in the workplace in part because of continued high unemployment. When jobs are scarce, workers have learned to accept what they can get.

It’s is also due to the absence of a worker voice on the job because of the virtual disappearance of unions, particularly in the private sector.

from Counterparties:

Reprogramming the robo-schedulers

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Flexible work hours aren’t always a good thing. Jodi Kantor made a splash with her New York Times story about Jannette Navaro, a Starbucks employee (er, “partner”) who has constant upheaval in her life thanks to her erratic work schedule. Starbucks is one of many companies that uses software to efficiently allocate employees around its stores. “This kind of work is ‘flexible’ only for the company. It means schedules and salaries vary to the point where it’s difficult for workers to make long-term plans,” writes Max Nisen. It can mean things like the “clopen,” when employees are scheduled to close the store late at night and open it again early the next morning.

Starbucks reacted quickly. Just hours after the story went live, the company announced it would be revising its policies. According to the Times, Starbucks executive Cliff Burrows emailed baristas across the country to tell them the company will curb “clopening,” allow employees who live more than an hour from their store to have the option to switch locations, and “scheduling software will be revised to allow more input from managers.” He also reiterated that schedules should be posted at least a week in advance.

from Breakingviews:

Wal-Mart can win leading the way on minimum wage

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wal-Mart Stores can win by leading the way on the minimum wage. The mega-retailer’s labor costs would rise significantly if the U.S. government were to increase the national pay floor. But the company also has far more low-wage customers than it does employees. That would translate into a net gain in earnings, according to a Breakingviews analysis.

from Photographers' Blog:

Pakistan’s beasts of burden

Choa Saidan Shah, Pakistan
By Sara Farid

A donkey carrying sacks of coal walks through the narrow tunnels of a coal mine, in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The miners call their donkeys their “biggest treasure”, an animal whose strength and patience lets them work in some of the world’s most dangerous mines. But life in Pakistan’s mines is dangerous for everyone – there’s a constant risk of cave-ins, and the black dust floating in the air slowly fills up the lungs of both man and beast.

A young miner leads his team of donkeys back to the coal face to collect more coal underground in Choa Saidan Shah in Punjab province April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Sara Farid

The donkeys make twenty trips a day from the depths of the mine to the storage site where they dump the coal. For each trip, they are loaded up with coal sacks weighing 20 kg (44 lbs) each. The teams of four to six animals are guided to the surface, unloaded, then obediently turn and walk again towards the black hole.

from Breakingviews:

U.S. is minimum-wage laggard given its prosperity

By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

America is a minimum-wage laggard – at least relative to its economic prosperity. With Washington considering a higher pay floor and Peru’s prime minister losing his job over the issue, a Breakingviews analysis shows that minimum wages as a percentage of local income levels are still low in the United States and, for instance, in neighboring Mexico.

from Edward Hadas:

AOL, solidarity and health insurance

The head of the American internet company AOL managed to say something really stupid a few weeks ago, and to sound callous at the same time. It’s a shame Tim Armstrong came off so badly, because he was trying to deal with a serious topic.

Armstrong was trying to justify the company’s decision, since reversed, to trim its employees’ retirement benefits. He started out at a disadvantage, because the chosen cutback was sneaky. A change that sounds innocuous, moving from monthly to annual employer payments into employee pension savings accounts, is actually a way to eliminate payments to employees who leave before the end of the year. It’s hard to look honest and upfront when explaining that.

from Breakingviews:

Return to U.S. workforce of old a mixed blessing

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The recent decline in the U.S. jobless rate to 6.7 percent is flattered by low labor participation. A return to the 2006 level of workforce involvement would mean 8 million more job-seekers and unemployment running over 11 percent. But as a Breakingviews calculator shows, that dramatically overstates the scale of the problem.

from The Great Debate:

Pennsylvania as the new Wisconsin in union fights

The Wisconsin state capitol was the site of massive protests in 2011 during the fight to pass Republican Governor Scott Walker’s labor reforms. The following year Big Labor staged demonstrations in Michigan against Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s right-to-work bill, which ultimately passed. Now Pennsylvania’s state capitol is set to reach fever pitch, as unions plan to bus in hundreds of protestors this week to fight legislation that, if bad for union bosses, could be a boon to rank-and-file workers.

Pennsylvania is a longtime labor stronghold. Consider that a plaque directly across from the state capitol commemorates the unionization of government workers. But Pennsylvania lawmakers are now poised to pass a law to end automatic deduction of union dues from government employee paychecks.

from Full Focus:

Living on minimum wage

As U.S. fast-food workers strike in a bid to raise wages in the service sector, Reuters photographers in 10 countries document the lives of workers living on their country's minimum wage.

from MacroScope:

For workers, the long run has arrived in Latin America

The outlook for emerging market economies over the next decade looks more challenging as long-term interest rates start to bottom out in the United States. Here is another complicating factor: ageing populations.

That problem is not as serious as in Japan or Europe, of course. Still, investors probably need to cut down their expectations for economic growth in Latin America over the next years, according to a report by BNP Paribas.

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