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If you, like me, worked retail decades ago, you wouldn't recognize it now.  We were never treated well, but at least we weren't treated like they are now -- "on call" like medical residents, but with too few hours for benefits, and wages sinking about as low as they can go.

As a plaintiff's employment attorney, I've spent some time trying to think through how some of what I see vicariously through the experiences of my daughter and her friends might be illegal.  Right now, I'm vacillating between seeing it as a problem for lawyers and a problem for union organizers.  (My guess is that it's probably both.)

CBS Moneywatch reporter Alain Sherter, elsewhere described in previous posts of mine as my homeboy, has written a beautiful and well-researched article on the topic.  I can't recommend it to you highly enough.  Some quotes below the storm cloud.

I'll just give you the intro:

Latoya Simpson did everything right -- and paid the price.

The 22-year-old was studying radiology at New York City College of Technology last year and making $13.50 an hour as a full-time cashier at Juicy Couture in the women's apparel maker's Fifth Avenue store in midtown Manhattan. Then she said the company gave her a choice: Either make herself available to work more, which would require her to quit school, or go part-time, resulting in a big drop in pay. It wasn't that store managers wanted her to work more hours -- they just wanted her to be around in case they needed her.

Unable to make ends meet on a part-timer's income, she reluctantly set aside her studies. "I felt that was unfair because when they promoted me to full-time they said it was fine for me to go to school," she said. "Then they gave me an ultimatum about dropping out of school or opening up my schedule. I had bills and rent to pay, so I kept the full-time position and stopped going to school."

In March, only a few months after leaving school and after nearly four years at Juicy, she was fired for violating the company's lateness policy.

My daughter, a full-time college student, is leaving retail because while she wants a part-time job, she also wants one where she won't be pushed to miss class, has a reasonably dependable schedule around which she can organize her non-academic life.  She also finds that not a lot of her colleagues in retail are in college anymore.  It looks like they want their workers to choose.  This leads, of course, to a more stratified society -- and that's not OK.

2:01 PM PT: I'm spurred by a couple of the comments below to add something I'd forgotten to include: remember all those stories about people getting by financially by working  two or three part-time jobs?  Well, even if you aren't in school, how can you work multiple part-time jobs to get by if they all have you "on call"?

Originally posted to Doane Spills on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM PDT.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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