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Beyond the nine-to-five: A few labor stories to try

February 14, 2020

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Here are some ideas on how to localize and expand beyond 9 to 5 labor stories. (Photo credit to Pixabay)

Whether it’s tying up your whole identity in work or striving for a greater work-life balance, jobs are always going to be a source of business stories. The median time metro-area workers begin the day is around 8 a.m., according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis

As for leaving…that varies. 

Quick Facts

Unlike at least 134 countries, the U.S. does not have laws setting a maximum amount of work week length or restrictions on overtime. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that while the U.S. is not the one of the top 10 countries with the most hours worked, the average worker puts in 1,786 hours a year. 

Thanks to Henry Ford, the tradition of the 40-hour work week lives on today, with men working slightly more than women in paying jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

The question of minimum wage has become a recent debate, particularly the Fight for $15 movement, as well as how much work is too much. While income inequality is an important topic, try thinking more about how overtime works and who’s affected by it. 

For instance, if people need a refresher, start with the basic overtime FAQs, handily provided by the Department of Labor

From working from home armed with just an internet connection to working with full-time laundry facilities and places to sleep ala “Hotel California,” there are plenty of story options where you can examine how people cut or extend their time on the job.

One trend that’s getting some buzz is the four-hour work week. One company, Shake Shack, is testing it out in Las Vegas, in hopes of boosting their employees. Although the company hasn’t launched it nationwide and only to a select few locations, other countries have taken up the idea.

Microsoft launched an experimental summer run in Japan this year, which included Fridays off and full-time employees getting “special paid leave,” according to the corporation’s post. The “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer” found that labor productivity rose by almost 40%, with drops in electrical consumption and printing paper. Other strategies included having a time cap on in-person meetings and putting an emphasis on technological communications, such as using Microsoft Teams or holding online meetings. 

Countries such as New Zealand and Britain are tossing the idea around, saying it increases productivity and lowers burn-out in high-pressure jobs. However, this idea has not gained much traction in the American labor market. None of the 2020 presidential candidates have included it into their platforms, despite other labor-centered policies such as the $15 minimum wage or universal basic income.

But test the waters — see if anyone in the area, employer or employee, wants to test it out.

Workers 

Who’s eligible to be paid for overtime? Can interns be paid for it? Is there a labor movement in your area? When do most workers leave? Is public transportation affected? Are there mental health consequences? (Fun fact: due to nonstop, grueling work hours during Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” some artists claimed their marriages were broken up, and they ordered in clean clothes and food because they couldn’t go home.)

When does overtime occur, and in how many jobs? Law enforcement, journalists, medical professionals, technicians, for starters. (There’s even a bill being introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) for arrested protesters to pay police officers’ overtime during the recent Shut Down D.C. protests.) 

What about unpaid labor, such as with teachers taking work home? Is there a movement to change that? 

Trump’s New Proposal

And how will the Trump administration’s expanded overtime pay eligibility affect workers? The Labor Department said that “most salaried workers who earn less than about $35,500 per year will be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay, up from the current threshold of about $23,700.”

The proposed rule will take effect on January 1. 

The president of the nonprofit American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations expressed that the rule will “leave behind 2.8 workers who could have and should have received #overtime” under former President Obama’s proposal. Meanwhile, Vox reported overtime rules have been weakened in the past 80 years. Gather local stories and opinions from those in your community who work overtime, as well as consult labor experts to see how this will affect your specific area. 

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