The Perils of NOT Working 9–5

Jodi Kantor at the Times has a poignant story about a woman whose unpredictable work hours affect her family, her relationships, her health, even her housing situation. The employee in question, single mother Janette Navarro, is striving and sacrificing, making the kind of choices we want to see in, and even demand of, our Good Poor; but her irregular schedule at Starbucks, set by machine, leaves her scrambling. She has to rely on the good will and flexibility on family members and a new boyfriend — and their patience has limits.

Newly off public assistance, she was just a few credits shy of an associate degree in business and talked of getting a master’s degree as some of her co-workers were. Her take-home pay rarely topped $400 to $500 every two weeks; since starting in November, she had set aside $900 toward a car — her next step toward stability and independence for herself and her 4-year-old son, Gavin.

But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.

This profile is a heartbreaking reminder that systems to increase efficiency and profits often come at the expense of real people who, by definition, have messy, complicated lives. One tech guru gushes that Starbucks’s computerized scheduling works “like magic” to help the company cut costs. It’s not magic, dude. There are casualties right in front of us.

ETA: A penitent Starbucks will change its ways

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