Saturday, February 28, 2009

Furloughing in the Wind

by the Sandwichman

Sandwichpal, John de Graaf is quoted in this New York Times feature about "A Slowdown That May Slow Us Down." "It ['furloughs'] may not ultimately be a sacrifice," John told the Times. "It may be exactly what they need to do to be happier and healthier."

The article also cites shorter work time mavens, Juliet Schor and Ben Hunnicutt and cite Dean Baker's tax credit for time off proposal.

12 comments:

Travis Fast said...

My prediction is that you are going to find yourself with some very strange bedfellows over the coming three years.

Jack said...

Sand-man,
I have never been cure of how you view the relationship between reduced hours of work and individual wages. If workers are expected to sacrifice earnings as a result of work time reduction how are those workers to be supportive of the concept? As noted in the Times article, "Ms. Lee(of the AFL_CIO) said. “Since we’ve ruptured that connection between wages and productivity growth, people have no choice but to work more to maintain their standard of living, and even that hasn’t been enough.”

Requiring workers to take unpaid leave is little different from exacting a disproportionate tax from those workers. No one wants their taxes to go up, but everyone seems quite satisfied to see the incomes of other workers to be sacrificed in the interest of reducing costs. Isn't that a bit uneven in regards to sacrificing for the greater good? Are the furloughs the result of reduced work loads or just a cost savings mechanism? Are the furloughed workers returning to their jobs only to find their work piled high from incompletion while on furlough? How is this equitable?

Sandwichman said...

Hours of work and individual wages...

The basic argument, Jack, is that "whether you work by the hour or work by the day, decreasing the hours increases the pay." It doesn't necessarily all happen at the once.

I would have liked to see a strategy of work-time reduction vigorously pursued by unions during the boom years. I advocated such and approached union federations with proposals for member education on the issue. The issue was not high on their agendas.

The worst possible time to implement work time reduction is during a recession. However, it may also be the only possible time, which thus makes it the 'best' possible time. Lemons -> lemonade.

Now, consider that there is always an irreducible element of uncertainty in any future-oriented investment. Work-time reduction is intrinsically future-oriented. What I keep hearing from weak supporters of work-time reduction is that they want me to propose a way to eliminate the uncertainty. They seem to somehow know that if only wages can somehow first go up then shorter hours will present itself as a 'choice' to workers. That 'somehow' is what the economics textbooks teach! It has no corresponding anchor in the real world. So, yeah, I'm a bit disappointed the Ms. Lee cites her Econ 101 textbook uncritically but I guess that's what indoctrination is for. "I'm all in favor of work time reduction but, first, where's my pony?"

All I can say is that there is also uncertainty with regard to the alternative of doing nothing. Doing nothing is not guaranteed to preserve what we have; it is guaranteed to not get us what we want. In other words, reducing the hours of work and not reducing the hours of work both produce uncertain outcomes, but the uncertain outcomes of the former are preferable to the uncertain outcomes of the later. It's a kind of Pascalian rationale.

Sandwichman said...

Correction: that should be, "whether you work by the piece or work by the day..."

Anonymous said...

A locality close by has $1M budget shortfall, revenues lost.

50% of the lose can be made up by a 2 dya per month "extra day off" without pay of course.

In my sitution I am quitting end of March, old ebnough to live on savings and annuities and the lag in replacing me will save the place about 3 months' of my pay (faster since they don't understand my specialty).

Holding the recruitments back by 60 days was used n my view during the rough times in the 70's.

Just doin' my bit!

Anonymous said...

A locality close by has $1M budget shortfall, revenues lost.

50% of the lose can be made up by a 2 dya per month "extra day off" without pay of course.

In my sitution I am quitting end of March, old ebnough to live on savings and annuities and the lag in replacing me will save the place about 3 months' of my pay (faster since they don't understand my specialty).

Holding the recruitments back by 60 days was used n my view during the rough times in the 70's.

Just doin' my bit!

Jack said...

"Correction: that should be,"whether you work by the piece or work by the day..."
And a major difference that correction makes in understanding the argument. The correction emphasizes pay for production. I'm not sure how reducing hours necessarily equates with increasing production, but if so it could then result in an increase in wages. The corrected phrase, "by the hour or by the day," on the other hand leaves room for disagreement with the supposition that pay will increase
as a result of the reduction of time on the job.

Sandwichman said...

Jack,

"by the day" simply refers to time wages and rhymes with "pay". A day rate assumes a customary number of hours in that day, just as an hourly rate also assumes a customary number of hours in the work day.

The argument associated with the slogan, Steward's eight-hour theory, is NOT based on increased productivity resulting in the increased wage but heightened political, social and economic awareness by the workers with more leisure time to figure out wassup.

Increased productivity does come into the picture down the road, as a consequence of rising consumption, expanded markets and economies of scale... It was a demand-side argument, precursor to Keynes.

The arguments really are much more uncommon than you might assume and thus would "repay some cost to understand them."

"But if they are true, they have most important consequences..."

But, I repeat, it is not, in the first instance, at least, a productivity argument. It's important to understand that.

Jack said...

"..but heightened political, social and economic awareness by the workers with more leisure time to figure out wassup."

From your lips to god's ear that workers in this country will ever figure out anything. Granted that I tend to be a bit of a cynic in regards to (American) workers being able to focus on their own economic self interests. Joe the Plumber, whom we used to call Joe Six Pack, hasn't shown himself (or herself) to be particularly self interested in former political choice and understanding. Sarah Palin comes to mind. it is an up hill battle, me thinks.

Eleanor said...

The nonprofits I know are cutting pay in order to survive. In some cases, this means people work 40 hours for less pay. In other cases, hours are being cut along with pay. I am going to 60% FT in a month. One of my friends has been negotiating a reduction to 75% FT, though his nonprofit may go under. (The nonprofit has gone from 5 FT employees to 2.5 FT employees, and is still facing a dire economic situation.)

Obviously there is a pay loss. But people still have jobs; and because the workers at nonprofits believe in their jobs and their organizations, a pay cut may be tolerable.

This same friend has been searching for grants for an ex-offender program. He found the perfect foundation -- committed to social justice, especially in the criminal justice system. He went on line to check the foundation and scrolled down through the perfect-fit mission statement to a note at the bottom of the page. The foundation was closing down. Its funds had been invested with Bernie Maddoff.

Jack said...

The non-profits are cutting and so too are the business for profit that arwe doing so, but for profitability not for survival. Sears in Fla. cut my sister-in-law to less than $5.00/hr. plus a 1% commission. She'll be lucky to hit minimum wage when the dust clears. I ask ny brother why she accepts the reduction and he too notes that "she's lucky to have the job." Lucky to be exploited in a down economy is more to the point. In California they are requiring time off without pay for some, some county employees are being told that they'll be on a shortened work year(?) at an equally shortened annual salary.

The moral of the story seems to be that "hours of work" are defined by employers as the most hours we can squeeze from an employee for the least pay. A depressed economy only offeers greater opportunities to exploit.

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