Employees of Color in Fast Food and Retail Have More Unpredictable Hours than White Workers: Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Employees of Color in Fast Food and Retail Have More Unpredictable Hours than White Workers: Study

Minority workers are exposed to the most unpredictable and unstable work schedules. / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123rf

 

Changing routines, night work, and shift work. All of these are erratic work schedules that can disturb a person’s body clock, which previous studies have linked to health implications. The fast-food and retail industries are both notorious when it comes to unpredictable work schedules. But a new study revealed that employees of color, particularly women, are more exposed to erratic schedules and unpredictable work schedule practices than their white colleagues.

 

Unpredictable and unstable work schedules

A team of researchers from the University of California shared in their study that minority workers are exposed to the most unpredictable and unstable work schedules. The schedule changes are not even considered as desirable schedule flexibility but the instability and unpredictability that are imposed by the employers. 

The researchers found that employees of color in the foodservice and retail industries are 10 to 20 percent more likely to report “clopenings,” on-call shifts, and canceled shifts than white workers. By clopenings, it means a work shift that is separated by less than 11 hours. A worker on a clopening schedule is there at the place of work at closing and then returns first thing in the morning to reopen the same business. It may be beneficial to the business, but it has dangerous physical and mental health side effects on the staff.

 

Minority workers in the foodservice and retail industries are further likely to be involuntary part-time workers. / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123rf

 

Minority vs. white workers in terms of erratic work hours

UC’s The Shift Project, which studied the scheduled practices of various business establishments, surveyed 30,000 employees at 120 of the biggest foodservice and retail firms. They found out that although 13 percent of white employees experience erratic work schedule in the last month, the percentage was higher (30 percent) among the minority employees.

 

Involuntary part-time workers

Minority workers in the foodservice and retail industries are further likely to be involuntary part-time workers. This means that although they wanted to work full-time, the situation has forced them to work part-time. This could be because they could not find a full-time job or their working hours were cut back.

Based on a separate statistics provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which promotes international cooperation to stimulate economic progress and world trade, the number of involuntary part-time workers 15 to 24 years old as of 2018 are as follows:

Australia: 386
United States: 505
United Kingdom: 250
European Union: 1,222
Japan: 380
France: 274
Netherlands: 56

 

 

Focusing on the US, the number of involuntary part-time workers in 2011 was 856, which increased to 870 in 2012. The following year, it again increased to 887, then 885 in 2014, 770 in 2015, 633 in 2016, and 559 in 2017.

The University of California attributed the scheduling gap to the manager’s unconscious and conscious racial bias. About 80 percent of the hourly white workers even admitted that their managers were also white. Then, there were only 38 percent of non-white workers who said that their direct supervisor was of the same race as they are. 

In the United States, the foodservice and retail industries hire 15 percent of their employees in the US, with Hispanic and African-American workers making up the other share of employees in the said sectors. In recent years, big companies have also relied on the use of advanced algorithms and new technology to staff their warehouses and stores.

Erratic work schedules create not only financial strain on the part of the workers but also damaging consequences that even connect to their family members. For example, last-minute work scheduling makes it a challenge to care for the elderly or young kids. It can also mean uneven pay that makes it difficult for the employees to plan.

Forty-four percent of people working in retail company Walmart, for instance, are employees of color. Adriana Bautista, who has been working in Walmart for 13 years, said via Los Angeles TV station KTLA that she has been working part-time in the company. On some days she gets off at 10 in the evening and has to be back at 8 in the morning. The company also schedules her at different times each week. “It’s exhausting,” she said. However, she admitted that she cannot afford to decline the shifts. Often, she would rely on her family to take care of her kids while at work. Another employee said she missed a lot of time with her kids. 

 

 

Economic consequences of erratic work scheduling

Unpredictable scheduling practices also affect the economy. When families experience fluctuations in their income, it also diminishes their ability to buy goods and services and it affects the economic demand.

Nonprofit research and grantmaking organization Washington Center for Equitable Growth shared that out of 37 percent salaried US workers,  8 percent of them are on an irregular schedule, 4 percent on split or rotating schedule, and 88 percent on a regular schedule. Out of the 53 percent hourly (pay status) workers, six percent of them are on an irregular schedule, 10 percent on split or rotating schedule, and 84 percent on a regular schedule.