Originally created 08/16/97

Part-time myths

The strike against United Parcel Service focuses largely on the issue of part-time jobs. Teamster boss Ron Carey claims UPS' heavy reliance on part-timers, who are paid less in hourly wages than full-timers, unfairly deprives its members of thousands of full-time jobs.

UPS, however, is better than most firms hiring part-timers; its wages are generally higher and UPS provides medical insurance and other fringe benefits.

Even so, taking the UPS strike as its cue, organized labor in general is mounting a broad public-relations campaign against "part-time America," charging that U.S. companies are filling their plants and offices with workers who are cheap to hire and easy to fire.

The problem is, it's a lie! Part-timers do constitute growing numbers in the work force -- because the work force itself is growing. As a share of that force, however, the numbers are the same as 20 years ago.

Harvard Professor Lawrence Katz explained to The Wall Street Journal that statistics part-time foes cite show that, between 1968 and 1993, part-timers jumped from 14 percent of the national work force to 17.6 percent.

True enough, says Katz, but what they don't say is that nearly all of that increase came between 1968 and 1975. Despite some minor ups and downs since then, there has been no consistent change in corporate America's part-time employment practices.

Labor might be on more solid ground arguing against the apparent rise in hiring full-time temporary -- or "contingency" -- employees. Apparent, because there's little statistical data to document the trend, though it is known the growth of "temp" agencies has been phenomenal the last 20 years and that contingency workers often don't get the pay or fringe benefits of regular full-timers.


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