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Opinion

Forgotten underclass: part-time workers

On Equal Pay Day, let's remember the 27 million part-time workers in America who earn lower pay for the same work done by full-timers – and get denied benefits like sick days. Promoting high-quality, part-time work would restore fairness, raise family incomes, and boost the economy.

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Merits of the Dutch model

It doesn’t have to be this way. For example, in the Netherlands, a major shift to fairly compensated part-time work has proven to be an effective strategy in combating unemployment. While the Dutch system is not perfect, the country’s commitment to well-paid part-time jobs with benefits has made workers there, particularly mothers, far less vulnerable than they are here in the United States. Whether it could have the same effect here might be open to debate, but it is an approach worth trying in the face of historic unemployment.

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Promoting high quality part-time work is also good for business. Overwhelming data shows flexible work arrangements help lower turnover, increase productivity, and improve employee loyalty. In these tough economic times, part-time work is also an effective strategy to reduce costs and minimize layoffs.

Some argue the part-time penalty is justified because many part-time workers choose to work part-time. But choices are not made in a vacuum. In a country where millions of workers are denied paid sick days, family leave, and any control over their work hours, part-time work is the only way many working mothers in particular have been able to meet their family obligations. Penalizing them for fulfilling their responsibilities is like punishing people for doing the right thing.

On Equal Pay Day, it’s imperative we call for a halt to the part-time wage and benefit penalty.

Steps that will make a difference

As a first step, Congress should strengthen enforcement of our nation’s anti-discrimination laws to ensure that part-time workers are paid fairly for a day’s work.

Also, passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow workers to share salary information without penalty, would make a significant difference.

Finally, federal and state governments should work to create quality part-time jobs, where part-time workers are not only afforded the same (pro-rata) pay, but also the same conditions, development, and advancement opportunities as comparable full-time workers. Britain has recently defined a quality part-time job to include these elements. The US should follow suit.

The best step, of course, would be aggressive grassroots pressure for change. If the rush of men into part-time jobs continues, maybe we will finally see a protest against the second-class status of so many of those who serve us in our shops and restaurants, care for us in our hospitals and nursing homes, and labor in the bottom rungs of law firms and the other professions.

Shouldn’t Equal Pay Day be their day, too?

Dina Bakst is co-founder & co-president of A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center, a legal advocacy organization. Ann Crittenden is an award-winning journalist, author, and lecturer. Her latest book, is “If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything.”

via The OpEd Project

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