Commentary: City Ignores Part-Time Workers Amendment

Editor’s Note: The following commentary was submitted by Staughton Lynd, the lead attorney in the lawsuit that sought to keep U.S. Steel in the Mahoning Valley, and Alice Lynd, a lawyer, like her husband, who has devoted countless hours to assisting prisoners in the Valley’s several new correctional institutions. The Business Journal welcomes commentaries from readers who may not share our editorial viewpoints.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — We have the impression that, with the departure of its leading industry, the Mahoning Valley is pervaded by hopelessness and despair. Parents do not expect their children to find jobs in the Valley as rewarding as the jobs the man in the family used to have in the mill. Their children leave the area looking for decent jobs and decent lives.

We know a graduate student in anthropology who came here hoping to write her dissertation about post-industrial Youngstown. She interviewed many people about their experience and their visions. A characteristic response came from young men who would collect scrap metal and other saleable items from vacant or abandoned properties, sell the junk, and use the money to buy dope. One man asked her, in effect, “Is this all there is? Is this what we are left with?”

Too many people are trying to piece together a living from one or more part-time jobs with no benefits. For example, at Youngstown State University approximately half the instructional hours are provided by “adjunct,” which is to say, part-time, teachers. This body of several hundred men and women has not had a pay raise in the past 25 years. Often they do not know what they will teach in a semester about to begin until days or even hours before classes start. Personal contact between student and teacher is the heart of effective education, but at YSU there is only a single office available for conferences between part-time teachers and students.

On Nov. 8, 2016, Youngstown voters approved an amendment to the Youngstown City Charter called the Part-Time Workers Bill of Rights: 56% in favor; 44% opposed. It includes the following provisions:

  • Part-time means “employed on an hourly basis fewer than forty (40) hours per week.”
  • The employer shall provide any part-time employee who requests it, “at least two weeks notice of their work schedules” and “the days and hours of those shifts.”
  • The estimated schedule must include on-call shifts. On-call means any shift for which an employee must work on less than 48 hours notice. Either the employer or the employee may cancel an on-call shift “as long as the cancellation occurs at least (48) forty-eight hours before the on-call shift is to start.”    
  • “Employers shall provide part-time employees with the same starting hourly wage as that provided to starting full-time employees who hold jobs that require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions.”
  • “Employers shall provide part-time employees with proportional access to employer-provided paid and unpaid time off, including sick leave, personal leave and vacation leave, as that afforded to full-time employees for the same job classification.”
  • Employers in Youngstown must post a notice in conspicuous locations informing part-time employees of their rights under the revised Charter.

 Part-time workers covered by this law include nursing and other health-care workers, food service workers, clerical staff, student workers, adjunct faculty, janitorial workers and others.

The charter amendment calls for City Council to appoint a commission to receive complaints, investigate and report its findings and recommendations to the City Council and otherwise to implement the Part-Time Workers Bill of Rights. “Two members of the commission shall be representative of employers, two members shall be representative of part-time employees, and one member shall represent the general public.” The City Council has not yet appointed anyone to serve on the commission.

The purpose of establishing oversight and workplace standards, according to the charter amendment, is to “support the productivity and economic success of employers and enhance the ability of part-time employees to perform at their highest potential.” Employees “perform better when they can coordinate their work and personal schedules in advance,” and when they “can rely on a predictable source of income.”

As we await action by council, employers and their part-time workers can voluntarily begin to put into effect the requirements of the Part-Time Workers Bill of Rights.

No institution in the Youngstown-Warren area escapes the gravitational downward pull of joblessness, under-employment, and ensuing despair. The area’s public schools are among the worst-performing in the state. Drug use in the Valley, often in collusion with medical professionals, here as elsewhere in Ohio has become an epidemic.

Come on, Youngstown. We can do better than this.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.