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Feature Stories

City Cutting Hours for Part-Time Workers

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 10
5/17/2013


By Jeremy Matusow

According to a recent study, millions of part-time U.S. workers may possibly see their hours being cut due to health care overhaul by President Barack Obama. The 2010 Affordable Care Act, which provides individuals new coverage options and tools needed to make informed choices regarding their health, could perhaps put approximately 2.3 million workers at greater risk for reduced hours.

It appears now that the City of Long Beach is restricting the hours of its part-time workforce to steer clear of new costs under health care reform. According to a report, the move echoes widely-publicized attempts by multiple U.S. companies to rely more heavily on part-time workers as a result of the law, which requires certain employers cover the health insurance costs of anyone working more than 30 hours per week.

Like many other cities across the country, Long Beach has struggled to limit the budget deficit in recent years. According to the city, officials last year proposed a plan to tackle its $17 million hole that included layoffs, pension reform and the outsourcing of certain services.

According to city employees, fiscal issues do not justify the city’s latest move. Tara Sievers, who is a city employee, is stunned that Long Beach is avoiding the law.

“It’s ridiculous the city is skirting the law,” said Sievers.

The 2.3 million workers who are at risk of reduced hours represent approximately 1.8 percent of the workforce. According to a study, individuals who do not have insurance through their employer work anywhere from 30 to 36 hours per week and earn incomes that are 400 percent below the federal poverty line for firms with 100 or more employees.

Starting in 2014, large employers could encounter penalties if they do not offer health benefits presumed affordable under the law. In order to avoid these particular costs, some employers have cut the hours worked by some of its employees.

Ken Jacobs, chair of the labor center at UC Berkeley, gives his take on hours being cut for part-time workers.

“Employers are not likely to force all full-time employees into part-time work due to factors that include additional administrative costs and productivity decreases,” said Jacobs. “Instead, those at highest risk are workers in predominately low-wage industries that are right on the cusp of what is considered full-time work under the law.”

According to a study that was conducted by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, the industries with the highest concentration of Jacob’s at-risk workers are restaurants, accommodations and building services. The 3.6 million workers who report that their “work hours vary” could have their hours jeopardized as well.

According to Long Beach officials, the benefits they otherwise would have to offer could cost the municipality as much as $2 million, a price that could result in cutbacks to city services. Tom Modica, the city’s director of government affairs, believes that service levels and programs must be sustained.

“We’re in the same boat as many employers,” said Modica. “We need to maintain the programs and service levels we have now.”Several government offices across the country have made the same decision as Long Beach, permitting them to avoid paying a fee for failing to provide coverage to would-be full-time workers. The list includes the state of Virginia as well as the city of Dearborn, Michigan. Numerous colleges and universities have stated that they will cut hours of faculty in order to avoid additional costs.

jeremy@longbeachcomber.com