Individual Responsibility, Group Responsibility, and Erratic Scheduling

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117 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    The problem with hanging so much weight on this concept…

    “A person who does not have the skills to get a job with the desired schedule or a decent one is just supposed to put up and deal.”

    … is twofold:

    First, on a more general level, you can make some version of it for almost any argument about anything relating to any job.

    Second, though, and more specifically is this: it suggests that Walmart is somehow the villain for gainfully hiring people that no one else would hire.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      If we are talking about who can bear a burden for having workers around, Wal-Mart sort of is the villain. I am not going into some kind of “job creator” Republican euphora and defensiveness.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

        American employers seem to be the biggest babies. Any sort of suggestion that they have a burden or responsibility to their employees ends up creating a million “woe is me” complaints about how anything destroys jobs.Report

        • The point isn’t to credit the “woe is me” whining. And I agree with you that it does exist and deserves some eye-rolling. The point is to look at the tradeoffs. Most regulations that would address these types of problems will probably hamper the growth of jobs along some margin.Report

          • Avatar Road Scholar says:

            Gabriel Conroy: Most regulations that would address these types of problems will probably hamper the growth of jobs along some margin.

            So let me get this straight… you have an employment practice that’s explicitly designed to minimize labor costs, to fine tune the scheduling to squeeze out that last few percent even, and you’re worried that regulations designed to curb the practice may hamper job growth?

            How does that even work in theory?Report

            • @road-scholar

              My point, as I try to explain to Saul below, is that the argument needs to be considered and that there can be a tradeoff.

              How does it work in theory? One way: if a firm has to offer, say, 6 to 8 hour shifts, then it has to employ some people at non-peak times when there are fewer customers. Another way: if a firm is not allowed to keep people on call….I don’t know what advantage a firm gets, so maybe something like a floating wage differential would help.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I have to agree with @road-scholar here and this is a time when you are really almost being a carton of neo-liberalism.

            I am having a hard time figuring out what is going on with you and the idea that job growth is the ultimate consideration and the quality of jobs doesn’t matter to you. You seemingly have no concern about level of pay, on the job conditions, whether the job is morale killing or physically hard to the point of serious injury or death.

            This is why I asked “where is your fight man?”

            Here is an article about how raising the minimum wage does not lead to economic collapse:


            I don’t think there is anyone who will deny that economic regulations have externalities. The liberal argument is that sometimes or often the regulations are still morally and ethically justifiable because while work is not always going to be fun or rewarding, it should not be unbearable.

            You seem to think that any regulation is going to lead to the permanent collapse of the American economy. This is even as you mentioned your own issues with low-wage employment and misery at low-wage jobs.

            No one is claiming that working at Wal-Mart or retail or in food service is ever going to be pleasant as compared to being a high-ranking executive. What we are claiming is that sometimes employer practices to maximize profits go to far. The NY Attorney General noted that erratic schedules makes it hard for people to get second jobs and/or educations to get better jobs.

            The simple truth is that Wal-Mart will probably not fire anyone if required to give advanced schedules and straight six or eight hour shifts. Workers will benefit and so will their families. Do you remember the right-wing business owner who said he would fire all of his employees if Obama was reelected? He ended up giving everyone a raise and was just being a big baby.

            So what’s the deal with your constant fear that any regulation which helps employees in the slightest way is going to lead to the end of American society and the economy?Report

            • @saul-degraw

              Please understand that in my response to you, I was noting that your “whining” argument disregarded the point that there are tradeoffs to certain policies. I wasn’t trying to be a “carton” of anything. I believe I even said in my comment that much of the whining from business owners deserves eye-rolling. I was commenting on your tendency to reject the counterargument without really considering it.

              I’ll agree with you that I have a strong bias toward having more jobs as opposed to having regulations that enhance the experience of those already with jobs. I freely admit I go overboard and sometimes am willing to tolerate on a policy level more than you are. Maybe if I still had one of those jobs, I’d want reforms similar to the ones you say you want. I’ll admit even more freely that the walls won’t come tumbling down with more regulations. I don’t think, and I haven’t said, that “any regulation is going to lead to the permanent collapse of the American economy.”

              Where’s my fight? I guess I’ll say again what I”ve said pretty recently. I’d like to encourage job growth. I’d like to develop a strong system of social supports with fewer strings attached. I (reluctantly) support union shop agreements, although I’d want a conscience exemption with which one could divert fair share payments to a charity. I support the ACA (note that I support it even though I believe the employer mandate probably hampers job growth). I’m nervous about what raising the minimum wage will do, especially when we have our next recession and people might be grateful for work at lower pay–and I’m also worried about the two-tiered, off-the-books economy that a “too high” wage could bring about.

              After one of the more recent threads, I’m even coming around to some sort of mandatory paid vacation.Report

            • I might also ask where your fight is, because it’s not always clear from your OP.

              What should the NY AG do? Prosecute firms for something that’s not against the law? Should firms be required to offer only 8-hour shifts? (You hedge in your comment to me–“straight six or eight hour shifts”–but you seem to want a mandatory minimum shift time, at least from reading your OP.) Increase the minimum wage by x amount? How much is x?

              Your OP is also not clear on something on what it means by “erratic” scheduling, and perhaps that’s why your “fight” is obfuscated. It seems that you conflate on-call scheduling, schedules that vary week by week, and part-time schedules. You seem to think all three are bad and should in some way be outlawed, or at least discouraged.Report

            • So what’s the deal with your constant fear that any regulation which helps employees in the slightest way is going to lead to the end of American society and the economy?

              I’ve never said that.

              Edited to add: seriously. That is like one of those “when did you stop being a member of the Communist party?” questions. Pointing out the costs of a policy and suggesting the costs need to be considered rather than dismissed merely as “whining” is not the same as claiming that said policies will “lead to the end of American society and the economy[.]”Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


              Off topic comment – remember Patricks post on Frameworks?

              I would suggest that, if at all possible, when you link to a source as support for an argument, you try to find a source that would be viewed sympathetically from people outside your framework. Kevin Drum & Mother Jones have a bias a mile wide, and while both are known to do good journalism from time to time, that bias colors everything they do. As such, their value as supporting evidence is likely to be seen as tainted and thus scrutinized heavily, if not outright dismissed, by those who find that bias troubling or offensive.

              If you think I’m wrong, then I wonder how open minded you would be if I posted an article critical of minimum wage hikes from Reason, or AEI, or NRO?

              It may not always be possible to find supporting evidence from an unbiased source, but an effort should be made to do so, or at least to find evidence from the least biased source possible, for instance.Report

        • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

          LOL @saul-degraw replying to himselfReport

    • Avatar zic says:

      You know, this is a common meme.

      But I’ve actually known a lot of people who worked for walmart; and in every case, the reason they no longer work for walmart is because of the way walmart not only treated them, but treated other employees. In every case, these people were fine, smart, and capable people, they’ve all moved on to far, far better work situations; though it wasn’t easy.

      So if it’s true that walmart hires the bottom of the barrel, it’s because they get rid of the better people through their abusive practices. Most particularly, promising one thing (enough work to get health insurance, for instance,) and then not delivering it. But also working extra hours off the books, being on call, etc. etc. etc.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’m not sure it even makes sense to say that Walmart hires the bottom of the barrel. Walmart almost certainly has turnover well over 100%, but they get dozens, in some places hundreds of applications per position, so they can be selective within that applicant pool.Report

        • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

          How many areas are there where Wal-Mart is effectively the only employer of size?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I’m sure there are some small towns where that is the case, but most places where there are Walmarts will also support a non-Walmart grocery store at least. And in places where it’s the only employer of size, I’d bet most of its employees are from out of town.Report

          • Avatar Notme says:

            I dont know. But surely it isnt wal mart’s fault they may be the only large emplorer in an area? They might create jobs that didnt exist in that place.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              There were always grocery store jobs, even before Walmart. Walmart is an efficiency upgrade, more than a job creator (and it upgrades cost efficiency by paying people less, among other things).

              That’s actually immaterial, though. Having walmart be the only large employer in a place creates systematic vulnerabilities. Say 10% of customers lose a good portion of their income to “bad bets” — well, Walmart is now seeing a 20% drop in income, and that might be enough to take a “mostly viable” store into a store that Walmart finds unprofitable. And those stores get closed.

              Problem is, at that point, you’ve got a 40 mile trip for groceries, and laid on people who couldn’t afford to be a viable market.

              Walmart isn’t going to cause the loss of our rural population (Blame Wall Street), but it’s helping…

              I’m not exactly against Wall Street’s schemes here, I think rural populations have an outsize influence in politics, and disassembling unprofitable areas now rather than later is probably a good plan.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            I’m going to go out on a limb and say none. You can’t have a pure retail economy—who are you going to sell to? I would be shocked if there were a place where Walmart employed even as much as ten percent of the population.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Brandon Berg:
              I would be shocked if there were a place where Walmart employed even as much as ten percent of the population.

              10%? That’d be an economic impossibility, no?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I’d guess that there’s no place where a WalMart employees 10% of the labor force, let alone the population.

                90% of the people in the US already live within 15 min of a WalMart;; it’s that the 10% of us who live further away (zic jumps up and down, Hi, that’s me!!!!!) are more and more scattered in the boonies. We’re not very thick on the ground.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                @zic Right. I meant 10% of the labor force, not 10% of the population. Thanks!

                @stillwater Not sure I follow. Like I said, I’d be very surprised if that were the case. Impossible…I don’t know. Maybe if they got a lot of business from people passing through?

                To the BLS!

                Nationally, there are 4.7M retail workers, which I’d say is about 3% of the labor force. So yeah, even if Wal-Mart is the only retail store in town, retail would have to be hugely overrepresented in that town.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Brandon Berg,

                You’re followin.

                Maybe if they got a lot of business from people passing through?

                If a lot of people pass thru wouldn’t there be a whole slew of retail outlets trying to capture that spendy cash?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Probably, yeah, but I’m trying to be as charitable as possible.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Walmart is a monopsony in a significant portion of the South, and pretty much nowhere else.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          I’m going to be so bold as to say that here, in Maine at least, they are scraping the bottom; labor is a growing demand, and employees don’t have to put up with so much crap as they did. My brother has to fill to clerical jobs in his office at a county probate court; they’re offering $16/hr. plus gov. bennies, and he’s having trouble finding people who will take that kind of money capable of doing the job. Most of the seasonal businesses here are having trouble finding workers, too.

          A lot of this is ACA, I think; at least here, people have always cobbled a livelihood out of three or more things, and typically one of those things in a household had to include a job that provided health insurance. But the Maine workforce has always had a much higher-rate of seasonal work then more industrial belts of the country.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Interesting. Maine’s UR is at 5.5%, just below the national rate, which is not high, but not so low that employers would be likely to have a difficult time filling most jobs. I know nothing of the labor market dynamics in Maine, though, so there could be a lot of things going on that I can’t see.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Maine has, I think, a lot of people who work off the books part time. So 5.5% as the official rate would suggest that it’s somewhat lower; perhaps as low as 4.5%.

              For years, I’ve wanted to write about the black market economy here; the under-the-table economy that includes skilled trades, pot, a lot of farm and house-cleaning labor; child care. People who work multiple, often seasonal jobs, can piece together a decent living if they can keep some of their labor out of official view. (Also keeps them from applying for much in the way of social safety net stuff; the more you apply, the more likely you’ll get caught.)

              I think this is likely the norm in rural areas; I don’t know how it works in cities anymore, but what I saw in Boston suggests it’s more undocumented aliens who made all their living off the books, not just some of it.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                @ zic
                What are your thoughts on timebanks for rural areas?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Time banks are, seems to me, an example of open source economy. Crowd funding seems similar, too.

                Here, folks seem to prefer barter, another model. Some folk barter for money, some for in-kind value, mostly with skills and with used items; say an old truck. My dad often purchased old equipment he needed, fixed it, use it, and then sold it at a profit. Resale of stuff is really common; clothing, books, tools, recreation equipment, vehicles. We probably have a bigger re-sale economy then new-retail; excepting LL Bean, and it happens on facebook, at the GoodWill, the old barn turned antique shop, yard sales and flea markets from spring to late fall.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                @joe-sal I trade photos for donations to the local food pantry.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                I couldn’t get the link to work, but that sounds like a cool idea.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


                Undocumented people are probably more likely to work off books for a variety of reasons. Most of which are fairly obvious. This doesn’t necessarily get limited to urban areas. It might be changing though with the existence of companies like Task Rabbit and Washio but maybe not.

                I don’t count illegal or semi-legal work when talking about the off the books economy for obvious reasons. Of course sex workers and drug dealers are going to prefer cash. Off the books work is interesting as a phenomenon when talking about legal businesses like bars. I’ve seen restaurant staffs get paid in envelopes of cash.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        I worked for WalMart for several years in the 1990s. It sucked. But then again retail always sucks. The question is how, or if, WalMart sucks more than other retail. My experience is out of date, but having worked both at WalMart and other retail, there certainly were some ways it sucked more.

        Part of the issue was that at that time it was in the late stage of a period of truly amazing growth. This had thinned out the managerial talent. I expect my store manager was a perfectly competent assistant manager somewhere, but she was clearly out of her depth, and was a walking example of the Peter Principle. The management also had this self-image of itself from when the organization was smaller, which no longer applied. It was very big on what it imagined its corporate culture to be, which bore little resemblance to what actually went on in the stores. This was soon after Sam Walton’s death. They pushed us to read his book, without noticing the cognitive dissonance.

        How this played out in practice was a lot of little stuff. Every morning before the store opened there was a storewide meeting, culminating in the associates (they were an early adopter of that word for employees) doing the “WalMart cheer.” This was mandatory enthusiasm: a bit like high school pep rallies, but with the threat of loss of income. They pushed the claim of being bottom-up, soliciting input and ideas from the employees. We actually were opening a new store. During the set, management had us stock the “high wall” behind the check stands running up nearly to the ceiling with gallon glass bottles of apple juice. This was chosen because it gives a good look. We also were in southern California. Literally the building next door was a former bowling alley, that had lost a wall during a recent earthquake. The managers were all imports from non-earthquake country, who didn’t understand. There was a string of locals talking to the set manager trying to find small enough words to explain why gallon glass bottles perched precariously on a high shelf were a bad idea. His response was just short of giving a kick in the ass for wasting his time and slacking off. If he had come in and let us know from day one that we were to shut up and do what we were told regardless, it would have been less bad.

        Apart from these cultural aspects, WalMart’s secret sauce was threefold: It was an early adopter of high tech inventory control. Each store had a satellite dish, and each day would transfer the local data to the home office. I assume they do this via internet today, and also that everyone does it, but I don’t have personal knowledge. The second advantage was supply chain control. Partly this was again the use of high tech before it was trendy, but partly a willingness to be ruthless with suppliers, even to the extreme of destroying them.

        The third, and this is the important one for this discussion, was ruthlessness about keeping personnel costs down. This was a huge part of a store manager’s evaluation. It was always about doing more with less manpower. To the extent that this means working efficiently and not wasting time screwing around, this is fine and dandy. But it also was quietly understood that an hourly employee with ambitions to advance within the company would work off the clock, while the salaried manager and assistant managers were worked like dogs, often doing non-managerial tasks because the hours weren’t available. We didn’t have the screwed up scheduling they have today, but this was for lack of algorithms rather than anything altruistic.

        I don’t know if working for WalMart still sucks any worse than anywhere else, but if it doesn’t it is because the others have caught up in the downward race.Report

  2. Avatar morat20 says:

    My son has recently entered into the realm of the employed (he’s a freshman in college) and has had endless problems with scheduling.

    Mostly trying to schedule him during class (despite having his class schedule) or scheduling him with no thought to ‘need to sleep’. It’s pretty common for him to have to complain (and at least management will listen and alter the schedule) that their proposed schedule either means 48 hours awake (school and work combined with the ability to take two or three hour-long naps in there) or him skipping classes to sleep.

    At least they don’t do erratic schedules — no calling in to find out, although there’s a lot of “Oh god, X called in, can you take his shift” — but that’s just par for the course for waitstaff.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      There was an article a few months ago about a program between the University of Lousiville and UPS. The program seems to be that UPS will pay tuition in exchange for working the graveyard shift. So you have a lot of college students who seemingly work on very little if any sleep.

      Now there seem to be two ways of looking at this program:

      1. Looking at the social, health, and psychological costs on the students because working a graveyard and then going to class and needing to pay attention. This is hard even for 18-21 year olds.

      2. “Hey, these students are getting free tuition and work experience. This is the American way of working your way through college and they are going to be debt free (or have less debt) than their cohort at graduation. We should get more kids to do this kind of stuff.”

      We can’t ever seem to find a middle ground where group #2 concedes that there might be a better way than having kids do the graveyard shift and then go to class.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Why does working the graveyard shift necessitate a lack of sleep? I mean, if you are going to work X hours, does it really matter if those hours are during the day or night if you can normalize your schedule to them?

        Go to class from 8-4, sleep from 5-11, work from 12-6. Is that really different than going to class from 8-4, working from 5-11, and sleeping from 12-6? You miss out on a social life. Well, not everyone gets to have the exact social life that they want.

        Zazzy worked night shifts off and on for years. It was a necessity for her job as a nurse. SOMEONE had to be there overnight. So, when she was on nights, she flipped her schedule. Sure, it wasn’t ideal and it took a toll on her and us at times. But her choice was take the night position or not get a job, because at the time all of the openings were in night nursing (as would be expected; people moved from night nursing to day nursing so when openings popped up, they were always in the former). Now, maybe she was being exploited but this seems to have worked as we would want it to: Zazzy was gainfully employed (pushing six figures) and burn victims got overnight care. Win-win, no?Report

        • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

          Will Truman (who is almost certainly to the right of me) once mentioned that the most miserable time of his life was working the graveyard shift when in college and that he had trouble finding time to sleep.

          The article goes into it:

          “One day last week, for instance, she attended a lab from 3 p.m. to 6:45, went to dinner with her mother, and then at midnight went in to work at UPS, where she sorts packages from midnight to 4:30 a.m.

          McLin, 21, is training to be a teacher, and so after she got off work and had some breakfast, she drove to an elementary school at 7:40 a.m and observed classes for four hours. That afternoon she attended a parent-teacher conference, capping off more than 24 hours straight of work and school with no sleep.”


          “Working all night can be challenging for students, especially those who have early morning classes or exams. A study published last year in the Journal of Nature and Science of Sleep found that sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness in college students can result in lower grade point averages, increased risk of academic failure, and impaired mood. Subjects who were tested after 35 hours of sleep deprivation, for example, saw scores drop two letter grades when compared to non-sleep-deprived subjects. Students who slept for nine hours a night or more had much higher GPAs than those who slept for fewer than six hours a night.”Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:


            So it would be difficult for McLin to work no matter when the available hours were. The problem is there are only 24 hours in a day and after school and sleep, there isn’t much left over.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


              That is exactly the point that progressives are trying to make. We should be looking for solutions where people can concentrate on school and do well there instead of ways where people just end up working full time and going to school full or part time while potentially doing both responsibilities not as well.

              Some people might succeed as what McLin is doing but they are the exception and not the rule.

              I don’t understand why it is more virtuous to have a nation where people take ten years to graduate from college instead but they are working full-time instead of having a society that makes it possible for people to graduate in four years while concentrating on their studies and then moving into full-time work that is much more productive for the individual and the economy over all.Report

              • Avatar Notme says:


                Sadly those progressive ideas usually involve other people’s money. If those folks arent happy quit the job. No one is forcing them to take ups’ genetous offer.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                “We should be looking for solutions where people can concentrate on school and do well there instead of ways where people just end up working full time and going to school full or part time while potentially doing both responsibilities not as well.”

                So does everyone get this opportunity? And if so, does that mean the government just subsidizes the living costs for those in school?

                “I don’t understand why it is more virtuous to have a nation where people take ten years to graduate from college instead but they are working full-time instead of having a society that makes it possible for people to graduate in four years while concentrating on their studies and then moving into full-time work that is much more productive for the individual and the economy over all.”

                I could ask the same question from the other side. In my experience older college graduates are usually more prepared to enter the workforce at a higher level due to the balance of real world experience they are getting while also completing their education. Of course, I took 10 years to graduate myself. But is that the norm? You seem to be implying it is.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I’m just voting we end college until we’re willing to acknowledge which fields will have jobs in the future — and tell the students. (Boomers are NOT helping, in this regard. We will need nurses, but once the boomers are in the ground, there’s going to be a glut on the market…).

                We’re at a point where the 20 year outlook on A LOT of college jobs is “there will be 1% of the current demand.”Report

              • Avatar Pyre says:

                At one point, during the Student Loan/government scholarship debate, I came up with an idea that might mitigate the issue. or, at least, put some flexibility into the needed professions coming out of colleges.

                The basic idea while using nurses as an example: When it is determined that there is a need for nurses, you slowly raise the level of government scholarship money for people who are going into nursing (10-20% per year) then, as the country starts to approach the optimal number of nurses, you level off the scholarship money then slowly decrease the amount by the same amount you raised it.

                In this way, you aren’t restricting anyone’s choice (You wanna go to school and study video game theory? Hope you can afford it.) but you are also creating a measurable guide for the young high school student to determine which careers are heating up/cooling down and creating incentives for needed jobs to be filled while avoiding the funding of blow-off majors without suddenly stranding college students who are two-three years into a major that was hot when they started.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Should that REALLY be a priority? How much money should we invest in that? How does that compare to how we should approach hunger and homelessness?

                This just goes into the bucket of “Let’s get more people into college” with a dash of “Without the associated costs!”Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                “This just goes into the bucket of “Let’s get more people into college” with a dash of “Without the associated costs!”

                Totally agree. Maybe I would feel better about it if Saul also included trade schools, etc.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                That goes to the discussion we had about Warren on Tod’s post on Hillary’s announcement. Will plans to improve how student loans/debt is handled include those in trade schools or seeking vocational training/licenses?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I fear the Left doesn’t put enough emphasis on trades. They seem to still believe that the absence of a college diploma on the wall of every home means the family isn’t living the American dream.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Enough trades take a diploma these days, ya know?
                (not that I’m complaining either way).
                At least going into a trade, you aren’t going to be totally washed up if your job disappears.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                When it is the students of nice private (er independent) schools that are sometimes the ones that don’t go to college, I will be more amenable to your idea.

                But talking about “college isn’t for everyone” is rarely about intellectual ability and usually about economic background. Get some rich dunderheads out of college and I will be more open to the idea of talking about “college isn’t for everyone”Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Let’s just stop college completely for a couple of years, shall we?
                We have issues with creating little tame rape preserves, filled with young women with more bravery than sense.
                Now, we also have 47% of current American jobs being simply not there in 20 years — and that’s the rosy projection.

                If you, the learned person who has the hubris to write about all of this, don’t even have an inkling of the jobs that will be around in 20 years, why should we ask mere children to decide?

                Simply put apprenticeships back into place — work and earn your money, and we’ll put college back when we can afford it. If we can afford it, ever again.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                We already had this discussion and it was pretty clear that there was a lot more to the question of “who will succeed at college” than economic resources. You may want to slow down the banging on that drum.Report

          • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

            In New Jersey it is illegal to drive after 24 hours of no sleep.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


        I worked for UPS doing the graveyard shift in Louisville in college. It’s not a big deal. There’s a nice gap between work and school for homework, etc. You just have to think about school being at the end of your day and not at the beginning. Not really any different than night school. Plus, there’s plenty of research to support the idea that many kids that age do not do well getting up early for morning classes. My oldest daughter really struggled with it through high school and her first year of college.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      What’s he trying to get his degree in?
      Hard time to be choosing a major…Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “I wonder why we can’t have those in the United States. What sort of cultural norm would a delay certificate go against?”

    Who says we can’t? I don’t know of any real social norm that a delay certificate would go against.

    Interestingly, the place that I have experienced the most stringent enforcement of this view of personal responsibility was in college. Which is curious, given that “personal responsibility” is typically the rallying cry of the right and universities typically skew left. But most professors I had said that due dates were due dates and were non-negotiable (even if they ultimately were). They didn’t want to hear that your computer crashed or the printer ran out of ink or that you emailed it in but the email didn’t go through. If you didn’t have your paper in the professor’s hand at the stated time, you were deemed late, full stop. I was never comfortable with this mindset. It seemed to be saying that in addition to completing the assignment (the primary objective) in a timely manner (a secondary objective of varying import based on the circumstances), it was also the responsibility of the student to predict and account for bumps in the road, expected or otherwise. You should know that the computer lab might be experiencing a power outage 6 hours before the paper is due and thus should have printed 12 hours earlier. Which really means the paper wasn’t due at 4pm on Friday but instead 4am on Friday.

    I don’t know what this tells us. Maybe that an overemphasis on personal responsibility is far more deeply ingrained in American culture than we realize when we see it as a left-right issue. Maybe that personal responsibility is more about power or anything else: those who tend to emphasize it are those who are empowered to insulate themselves from the negative consequences of their choices. I’m not really sure.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

      I have a friend who teaches at two colleges.

      She says that there are two different cultures when it comes to handing in work and at one college students are more likely to hand in work on time than the other. And at one university students come up with a million excuses for extensions. Asking for extensions is still very common at both places though.

      The colleges are roughly comparable academically speaking.Report

    • @kazzy

      “I wonder why we can’t have those in the United States. What sort of cultural norm would a delay certificate go against?”

      Who says we can’t? I don’t know of any real social norm that a delay certificate would go against.

      I agree. I suspect that one reason we don’t have them (assuming we don’t….maybe some transit systems do) is that too few people even know enough about them or thought about them to make them a priority. I think it’s a good idea.

      I will point out that one function of suggesting,that it’s a “cultural norm” is to reinforce the narrative that if it happens in the US, it’s bad, but if it happens in another industrialized country, it’s good. Not that anyone is trying explicitly to do that, just that it’s how referring to cultural norms in this case might be read (by me, for example).Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      @kazzy “Plan for the unexpected and leave a wide margin of error” is not a bad lesson to teach, though I readily admit that I didn’t do that.

      I suspect that most professors go through a year or so where they swear they’re going to reasonable, not like the professors they had. And then proceed to learn why their professors were such hard-asses, as half the class has a grandparent die in any given month.

      Do you want their grandparents’ blood on your hands, Kazzy? Do you?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I don’t disagree in the abstract, but artificially imposing inflexibility where flexibility naturally exists seems to go too far. I’ve seen profs refuse to accept digital copies delivered on time.

        I mean, if office hours end at 4 or class starts at noon and you donmt make it, leave the office or start without the kid. That seems a more reasonable way to send the same message.Report

  4. Avatar ACIS says:

    Erratic scheduling is a great way to screw over employees and prevent them from taking on a second job or attending school. It’s also a way that dishonest managers punish employees to avoid seeming like they are retaliating on paper, the same number of “hours” broken up into a setup that basically forces the employee to waste entire days on a 4-hour shift.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      Oh yeah, way back in the day I had a manager do that to me for the crime of filing for worker’s comp after getting hurt on the job.

      For some strange reason, despite being heavily short handed, I was scheduled for surprisingly little time and often given highly erratic hours. “Can you come in from 3:00 to 5:00, and then again at 1:00 to 3:00 AM? That’ll be it for the week”.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    We dare not criticize the public sector union employee for just straight up lying.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Really? I though public sector unions were the cause of all of our problems including obesity and hair loss.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Well, we’re expecting the private sector to suck up the failure of the public sector. Because if they don’t, they’re the ones who are assholes. But if the private sector provides an alternative to the public sector and assume the responsibility for getting to people to work on time they are also assholes

        I mean, the one guy in the story whose entire job is ‘time’ fouls up, and it winds up being society’s fault for being such a hard ass about time.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Golf clap for the really circuitous way to blame the evil public sector and dredge up pity for the long suffering private sector. Way to stick it to the oppresors.

          But yeah the google bus protests were rubish.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “But if the private sector provides an alternative to the public sector and assume the responsibility for getting to people to work on time”

          …which they could have done by giving all their employees Muni fare and Caltrain tickets, bro. And the influx of revenue into those systems would have benefited everyone in the area, rather than just those lucky few who had the foresight to be employed by an advertising firm.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            You mean the Caltrain with a farebox recovery of 50ish%, pal? And that’s already overcrowded, buddy?

            So we’re going to take people out of their buses and put them into an already financially strapped and overburdened system where extra people are a net cost, not a net revenue stream? Good luck with that plan, friend.Report

            • Avatar Alan Scott says:

              My university works actively with the city bus line, providing resources and making sure that the bus in in a position to meed student needs. I’m not sure why a private employer of sufficient size can’t do the same thing.Report

            • Extra people are not a net cost unless they result in additional buses/trains/cars.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              Oh gosh, those poor poor tech workers, having wait for the city bus like the common people do.

              I guess you missed the part where I said “the influx of revenue into those systems”, implying that they’d have the money they needed to expand service.

              Fare box recovery isn’t relevant, by the way, since the arrangement would be “Google pays SF Muni ten million dollars and every Google employee gets a free fare card”.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      Despite what you and @j-r said there was an honest incident. A mentally ill person got on the train and was in the middle of a psychotic breakdown. I was in the same car. The first thing he did was sit down across from a young woman and was talking very loudly and going back and forth about “You better not fucking touch me” and “you better fucking touch me”. He made the first young woman shake his hand. She got off at a stop and you could tell how tense she was from the experience.

      The guy then sat next to another woman and basically would not let her leave at West Oakland until some guys intervened and helped her.

      We then rolled along to 12th Street where the action stopped. The mentally ill guy decided to stand between the train cars. Police and fire were called. The conductor told us that if we needed to transfer to do it at 19th Street and a train would be there. The doors were also kept locked for some reason. At one point the conductor got on the loud speaker and asked “Is that guy still in a car” and a woman got on the call box and said no and reported what car number we were in. We went rolling after a few minutes. He also said that the doors would remain locked until the authorities came.

      We got to 19th street with a 14 minute wait until the next train. Normally the transfers are immediate or there is a 1-3 minute wait. This is when the guy went ballistic on the customer service phone even though @j-r accused me of lying.

      And for all I know, the conductor could have been told that the transfer train would be waiting at 19th Street and a decision was made above his head to let the transfer train continue. I saw the transfer train across the tracks at 12th Street.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        I didn’t accuse you of lying. I’m giving you a slight ribbing for using one-off anecdotes to support fuzzy claims about at-will employment.Report

  6. Avatar j r says:

    A guy on the train was very distressed and picked up the white service phone and began screaming at the BART employee on the other end. He went on about how he relied on the conductor’s promise that we would make the transfer and told his boss that he would be at work on time. Now the guy was going to get fired….
    He was clearly under a lot of stress based on his reaction to the delay. The guy was not wrong though.

    He was probably a cab driver, who had to get his car and make it to the airport in time to pick up Tom Friedman.Report

    • I personally think the guy was wrong. Taking mass transit means taking a risk that sometimes it doesn’t work. While maybe that’s a reason to have sympathy for his situation, that’s no reason to yell at the conductor.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    While I don’t necessarily agree with the complaints about erratic scheduling, the part of this post I struggled with the most was the link to tardiness. While they may overlap sometimes, I don’t think the erratic schedules lead to tardiness. I have taken public transportation to work at retail jobs in my teens and occasionally it did require an early wake-up call but it wasn’t unbearable and it certainly didn’t prevent me from being a successful student.Report

  8. Avatar Cardiff Kook says:

    ”…the burden should be on the employer especially larger employers because they are able to bear the burden the most. Wikipedia tells me that Wal-Mart has nearly 486 billion dollars in revenue. I don’t think giving their workers 8 hour consecutive shifts will do much to hurt their bottom line.”

    I would agree that this is a coordination problem which causes human productivity and flourishing to suffer and that therefore needs to be solved. The solution could be state or private, or more likely a combination.

    I do not think the solution is necessarily to place the burden on the deep pocket, though I can imagine why an attorney might think this is good. (insert smiley face) In reality, where we think we place the burden and where it falls rarely matches our first order thinking. Economic thinking requires considering the secondary and tertiary and other unintended effects.

    I think a reasonable compromise is to require a nominal fee for asking an employee to be on call. This would allow the most flexible employees to make extra money, but would suppress employers from taking advantage of the situation. In other words, it would allow for coordination. That said, I suggest we try the idea and alternatives to see how it works before scaling it.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    In Canada, we have a thing called the three-hour rule that is supposed to help, but doesn’t in my experience. The way it’s supposed to work is, if you get scheduled for a full shift and your boss tells you to go home when you get there, they have to pay you for three hours, which isn’t much in the first place. In the second place, it’s exceedingly hard to file a claim. When I had an employer who kept sending me home after half and hour and called the Ministry of Labour about it, they basically told me I would have to prove that I was regularly scheduled for an 8-hour shift on that day of the week and had ‘reasonable expectation’ that I would be kept the whole time. In the restaurant business, which lives on this sort of “flexible” scheduling nonsense, that was basically impossible. So, I just started calling in around the time I would leave for work and asking them if they really needed me or would I be sent home.Report

  10. Avatar Maribou says:

    FWIW, the part-time students I schedule would (mostly) hate having 8 hour shifts. I know cause I did a poll. 2 hour and 4 hour shifts are their preference. They rarely have 8 uninterrupted hours free at times when we could use their labor.

    But they have the same schedule every week for a month at a time (their class schedules change every month, or they’d last even longer). And they work out both their own schedules and their own shift-trades, with my goal being to interfere as little as possible. I do interfere, because coverage must be had, but only minimally.

    I think shift length is far less of a problem than top-down, hierarchical management structures. But, you know, the former is a lot easier to legislate.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Same thing when I did lab management. Lab staff worked short shifts by preference. But we did have their class schedule, and the work schedule was hashed out every semester. Staff was free to shift swap, as long as we knew about it. If we had a short notice absenteeism, we would try to get another student to fill it (we had a call list), and if no one could, me or my assistant would work the shift.

      All that said, the main thing is, once the schedule was set, it didn’t change often or on short notice.Report

  11. Avatar zic says:

    And I just found out about biometric time clocks.

    That’s quite a website, btw. You might want to spend a few minutes browsing through this fine product designed to help corporations get the most out of their labor force for the least cost. It’s a fine business strategy; too.

    Yet I always recall that the biggest mover of the economy is consumer spending; and there does seem to be this element of chocking off consumer income to a point that low-wage workers don’t have excess income to spend that retards growth. This amazing software the many other packages available that do similar things, might, like bike helmets, cost more than it saves.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      In my experience, biometric time clocks were a big win in the places where they were installed. They’re quick, easy to use, and they completely eliminate the problem of people fabricating timecards, making timecard errors, and clocking in/out for each other. It takes a whole class of problems and makes them a non-issue in one step.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @troublesome-frog I totally get that.

        But it’s also very easy to understand how labor can optimized without regard to the stability of the employee’s life, which is exactly what we’re discussing.

        I didn’t know about biometric time clocks, and find that kind of stuff fascinating. I did a piece several years ago (never got published, the magazine was printed, but the company folded; never got paid for the story, either) about a company that made poker chips and put RFID tags in them so that casino’s could track players around the floor, watch what they did and how they spent their chips. (Dude who ran the company just got sentenced to jail for tax evasion.)Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

      I used a biometric time clock at my last job.


      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        Yeah, the only rule is: Give the on-site manager a code for the damned thing.

        We had a handprint clock at our workplace, which worked great–except that it didn’t adjust for daylight saving time, and when one of the guys broke his finger, the clock couldn’t read his handprint anymore. And those required fixes that nobody on-site was allowed to make.

        As @maribou said, the problem is with the top-down hierarchical management structures.Report

  12. I think individual responsibility and “group responsibility” (not sure what the latter means) are not very helpful ways to look at the problem. And I agree that erratic scheduling probably sucks for most people who are so employed and the predictability of a set schedule is usually better.* But talking about “responsibility” just gets us in a “It’s your fault!” “No, it’s your fault!” type of conversation.

    I think a better way to look at it is what are the incentives for employers to act as they do and what strategies are available to encourage employers to offer predictable schedules. If we take the moralism of who’s responsible out of it, then maybe it’s possible to have a workable, or at least less bad solution. What that solution might be, I don’t know.

    *Maybe not always. Some employers occasionally offer extra hours or overtime. I don’t think that’s necessarily “erratic” as long as it’s voluntary, which it often isn’t. Still, in my anecdotal evidence, there is usually at least some people who are willing to volunteer because they “need the hours.”Report

  13. Avatar Damon says:

    “The real issue seems to be the American obsession with individual responsibility taking to an extreme. ”

    Really? Where I am, it’s not that way at all. Mid Atlantic. It’s full on ENTITLEMENT. No one ever wants to take responsibility.Report

  14. Avatar zic says:

    Ha. Seems George Lucas is going to build some affordable housing in Marin County, after his neighbors fought his plans for a studio there for 25 years.


    A plan that will be submitted to the county Community Development Agency this week calls for 120 two- and three-bedroom workforce residences in one four-story cluster and two two-story clusters on the site, and 104 one- and two-bedroom residences for seniors in a four-story cluster, as well as four parking garages.

    The proposal includes a community center and pool, terraced gardens, an orchard and a “micro farm” or community garden, and a barn. It limits development to a 52-acre tract of the 1,039-acre ranch, 800 acres of which already have been dedicated as open space.”


    The Times also reports that the housing units will be available to applicants such as teachers and nurses who “earn less than 80 percent of median income, and senior renters falling somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of the median.” According to the US Census Bureau, the median income fro households in Marin County is $90,839. After doing the math, that means applicants who make less than $72,000 a year will be eligible for housing.

    How do George Lucas’ rich neighbors feel about this? They’re pissed off, of course. They are literally whining about the project, accusing Lucas of waging class warfare and claiming that the project will bring drug dealers, crime, and “lowlifes” to the area. Because apparently, rich people think anyone making a living working a real job shouldn’t get to live in a nice neighborhood. But Lucas isn’t backing down. He’s going to be a champion for the working poor whether the wealthy residents of the community like it or not.

    “We’ve got enough millionaires here,” Lucas said through his attorney. “What we need is some houses for regular working people.”


  15. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Prospective Employee: So here’s the deal. I come in for work, when I want, for as long or as little as I want, when I feel like it. Maybe 30 hours this week, maybe ten the next, maybe not at all.

    Prospective Employer: But that’s ridiculous!


    • Avatar ACIS says:

      And yet thanks to income disparity and the de-facto slavery factor, employees who are just barely scraping by will desperately try to preserve any hours they can get and so will put up with these sorts of abuses. Back in my grandmother’s day it took hundreds of women dying in factory fires because the bosses had chained the fire exits shut before we made this kind of crap illegal, and now it’s coming back.Report

      • Avatar Notme says:


        Funny, ive never seen any of the doors at wal mart chained shut. Have you or is this just more liberal hypebole?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          That actually did happen, IIRC, about ten years ago. There was some case where a Walmart store manager locked the doors overnight, with only the shift manager having a key.

          So, you know. Stopped clocks.

          Edit: Sorry, that’s not quite right. It was standard, and there is no one with a key, but there are fire exits. The issue was that someone got hurt but didn’t use the fire exit because he had been instructed not to use it for anything but a fire. Not sure how things work now.Report

  16. Avatar ACIS says:

    Wal-mart employs 1% of the USA’s population. Not “working age population”, just POPULATION. It pays its average employee below the poverty line and encourages them to take public assistance to make up the difference, and many of the people who shop at a Wal-mart aren’t doing it by choice but in order to stretch their public assistance dollars too. This is even true when Wal-mart has destroyed the jobs that were previously available in their area. Wal-mart is the definition of greedy corporate welfare mooching.

    Brandon Berg:
    I’m going to go out on a limb and say none. You can’t have a pure retail economy—who are you going to sell to? I would be shocked if there were a place where Walmart employed even as much as ten percent of the population.


    • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

      Wal-mart employs 1% of the USA’s population. Not “working age population”, just POPULATION.

      If by “Not ‘working age population’, just POPULATION” you mean “actually, just working age population” this comment is correct.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      @acis Your comment is neither relevant as a response to mine nor true. Wal-Mart has 2.2M employees worldwide, which is already well under 1% of the US population. 1.4M of those employees are in the US, making them less than 1% of the US’s labor force of 156M. The median pay for a Wal-Mart worker is around $22,000 per year, a bit under the Federal Poverty Line for a family of four, but above the poverty line for a family of three. Since the average Wal-Mart employee isn’t supporting a family of four, single-handed or otherwise, that income is not below the poverty line that is actually relevant to the median Wal-Mart worker.

      May I suggest making up stuff that isn’t trivially falsifiable? You’ll still be wrong, but I’ll probably be too lazy to put in the work to rub your nose in it.Report