Technology has made work ever-present. Cell-phones tether salaried workers to endless 24/7 workweeks, caffeinated by Starbucks baristas who are among the millions of workers scrambling for hours with head-spinning erratic schedules. The nature of work has changed for all of us. And for the majority of American workers, work has become a transaction paid by the hour. Growing steadily since the 1970s, three in five American workers—that’s 75 million people—are now paid by the hour. Over 26 million hourly workers are part-time—and they earn lower wages and are more likely to be women, Black or Latino, and working poor than their full-time co-workers. Working hourly has become an especially precarious proposition as low-wage sectors like retail, restaurants and healthcare, which employ over one-quarter of all workers, use sophisticated workforce technologies to micro-adjust workers’ schedules to match the ebb and flow of commerce.
Many employers today have shifted the risk of doing business onto their frontline workers, who pay in hours, stress and insecurity. Workers increasingly can’t predict when they will work and when they won’t—they are called in or sent home at a moment’s notice. Expected to be available whenever business is in operation, many workers are nevertheless getting scheduled for fewer and fewer hours. Part-time workers live with the constant anxiety of whether enough hours will be doled out at the right times; when they’ll get their schedule and if it will change; and, for working parents, who will take care of the kids when the desperately needed on-call shift pans out.