As the U.S. Secretary of Labor convenes business owners, employees, researchers and advocates in Los Angeles today for a discussion on workplace flexibility, the National Partnership for Women & Families and Family Values @ Work Consortium have released a new report detailing the experiences of hourly, lower-wage workers in Los Angeles. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) event, which focuses on this key group of workers, is the third in the Obama administration’s National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility series.
The report, Los Angeles Workers Speak: The Employee Case for Flexibility in Hourly, Lower-Wage Jobs, chronicles how inflexible workplaces hurt lower-wage workers and their families, as well as businesses. It is based on a January 2011 discussion with a group of 14 hourly, lower-wage workers from the greater Los Angeles area.
The workers identified scheduling demands — being required to work unpredictable and constantly changing shifts, and having to work overtime with little or no notice — as key sources of conflict between their responsibilities at work and at home. They also described little to no leeway to arrive late, leave early or take time mid-day to deal with family or medical emergencies. When these workers are sick or need to care for a sick child, they often lack access to paid sick time and risk workplace discipline or job loss for taking time off.
“This new report and the conversations happening in Los Angeles today are helping to give hourly, lower-wage workers in Los Angeles — and others like them throughout the country — a voice in a much needed national discussion in this country,” said Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “The Department of Labor events and the data and research they have generated are an important step in identifying the best policies to meet the needs of today’s working families.”
Studies have shown that lower-wage workers are much less likely than salaried, professional employees to experience workplace flexibility. Los Angeles Workers Speak provides a qualitative analysis of the impact inflexibility has on these lower-wage workers and their families.
“We applaud the Department of Labor for seeking out workers’ perspectives,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work. “The experiences documented in our report remind us that nothing is more inflexible than being fired for having a sick child. Through these voices, we see the harm to workers and families and to the business bottom line from inflexible policies — and the benefits where policies allow workers to be good employees and good family members.”
The report includes solutions proposed by group participants that can work for both workers and employers. Participants said that having basic flexibility at work, with managers who understand their needs, would help them to enhance their company’s productivity and profitability while protecting their own well-being. They advocated a greater role for government — working with business — to promote workers’ awareness of existing laws like the federal Family and Medical Leave Act while developing new standards, including paid sick days.
The perspective captured in Los Angeles Workers Speak is reflected in new data analyses released on Thursday by the Family and Work Institute (FWI). Its report, Workplace Flexibility and Low-Wage Employees, shows that lower-wage workers are much less likely than higher-wage workers to have access to flexible policies like paid time off to deal with personal illness or care for a child. Yet these workers are just as likely to have family care responsibilities. According to FWI studies, greater flexibility on the job can produce positive outcomes for both workers and employers, such as increased job satisfaction, improved health and reduced turnover.
Both reports reinforce the theme of the National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility — the increasing need for and benefit of workplace flexibility for employees and businesses. The series started in October 2010 and has included events in Dallas and Atlanta. The next event is on Friday in Seattle.
The National Partnership for Women & Families and Family Values @ Work Consortium report can be found here.
Workers and business owners involved in the National Dialogue event are available for interview upon request.