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Warren and Schakowsky Introduce Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights to Battle Companies That 'Skimp on Wages and Benefits'

The legislation comes as new research shows that part-time workers are underemployed—particularly women and people of color—and paid 29.3% less in wages per hour compared with full-time workers.

walmart workers

Workers demonstrate outside the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas in October 2011. (Photo: Marc F. Henning via OUR Walmart/flickr)

Progressives in Congress introduced on Thursday the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights Act, legislation that aims to improve rights and benefits of laborers who often face financial insecurity and poor health issues associated with precarious job conditions and low pay.

"It's well past time we balance the scales for part-time workers and empower them with the security and opportunity that comes with a predictable, well-paying job."
—Sen. Cory Booker

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who announced the bill in December 2019. The co-sponsors are Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as well as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

"Giant companies force millions of workers to work part-time every year rather than hiring full-time staff to skimp on wages and benefits," Warren said in a statement. The 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate added that she is proud to partner with her co-sponsors "on a bill that ends this exploitive business practice that prioritizes corporate profits over people, and give workers the opportunity to make enough to build futures for themselves and for their families."

As the statement from Warren's office outlined, the legislation (pdf) would:

  • Require large employers to offer available hours to current, available, qualified part-time employees before hiring new employees or subcontractors. The legislation requires employers with more than 500 workers to compensate existing employees if they hire new employees instead of assigning new work to available, qualified, existing employees.
  • Make more part-time employees eligible for family and medical leave. The legislation guarantees any employee who has worked for their employer for at least a year access to federal leave protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Allow part-time workers to participate in their employers' pension plans. The legislation amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to give part-time workers who have worked at least 500 hours for two consecutive years access to retirement plans if they are offered by their employers to full-time workers.

Booker commended his colleagues' efforts "on this important legislation." He added that "millions of workers across the country see more month at the end of their money than money at the end of the month. It's well past time we balance the scales for part-time workers and empower them with the security and opportunity that comes with a predictable, well-paying job."

The legislation was unveiled at a press conference Thursday attended by Schakowsky, Pressley, DeLauro, and Porter as well as representatives from the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), United for Respect, United Food & Commercial Workers, the National Women's Law Center, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

At the press conference, Penn State economics professor and EPI research associate Lonnie Golden discussed the new research on part-time workers, published as a pair of reports Thursday by EPI and CLASP. The EPI report focused on pay disparities between part- and full-time workers.

Golden found that part-time workers "are paid 29.3% less in wages per hour than workers with similar demographic characteristics and education levels who work full time." He noted that "when controls for industry and occupation are added, part-time workers are paid 19.8% less than their full-time counterparts."

Although men face a higher adjusted wage penalty than women (25.8% v. 15.9%), women make up nearly two-thirds of the part-time workforce. In terms of race and ethnicity, Golden found that the fully adjusted wage penalty is 20.7% for white workers, 20.2% for African-American workers, and 14.2% for Hispanic workers.

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According to the report, the penalty is even higher for those who want a full-time job: "Part-time workers who say they work reduced hours because of 'slack work or business conditions' experienced a 22.3% wage penalty, while those who say they work part time because they 'could only find part-time work' experienced a 29.5% wage penalty."

In a statement from EPI Thursday, Golden said:

While some workers prefer the time flexibility that part-time working provides, more than four million U.S. part-time workers still would prefer to work a full-time job and likely many others who are working part time for non-economic reasons would also prefer full-time work if they did not have constraints like the lack of support for family caretaking and pursuing education. Whatever the motivation for working part-time, all such workers face a pay inequity that should be directly addressed through policy action.

The CLASP report—which Golden co-authored with Jaeseung Kim, a professor at the University of South Carolina's College of Social Work—focused on underemployment, which is particularly an issue for female, black, and Latinx workers.

Building on the approach of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Golden and Kim created "a broader, more inclusive measure of underemployment, which includes any part-time worker who prefers more work hours, not just those who want a full-time job."

"Using this more inclusive measure, we find the underemployment rate to be higher—8 to 11%, which is double the rate of the narrower BLS measure," they explained. The figures are even higher for Latinx and black workers, at 14% and 12%, compared with white workers at 7%.

"Despite low overall unemployment numbers, our paper shows what we have known all along—workers earning low wages are struggling," said Pronita Gupta, CLASP's director of job quality. "This paper provides evidence that underemployment among part-time workers is a growing problem, particularly along racial, ethnic, and gender lines as well as in key low-wage occupations."

"Workers know the part-time gig is rigged against them, which is why across the country they are demanding a Fair Workweek," said Rachel Deutsch, supervising attorney for worker justice at CPD and the Fair Workweek Initiative. "We need Congress to address the crisis of underemployment impacting families everywhere. The Part-Time Workers' Bill of Rights will help address the racial and gender pay gap by offering a pathway to stable, full-time jobs and guaranteeing equal wages and access to benefits."

Janie Grice, a United for Respect leader and Walmart associate of four years, said Thursday that she welcomed Warren and Schakowsky's bill because it would force corporations to give part-time workers the hours they need to support their families and pay that is on par with their full-time colleagues.

"Corporations like Walmart pursue a part-timing strategy as a greedy tactic to keep labor costs low and boost short-term profits at the expense of hourly employees. I had been asking for full-time hours at Walmart for four years, but instead, our store continued hiring more and more part-timers who typically earn much less," Grice added. "More than half a million people are trapped in part-time positions at Walmart, the nation's largest corporate employer."

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