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ObamaCare’s 30-Hour Work Week: Fulfilling a Longtime Leftist Dream?

Is it a backdoor move towards a drastic nationwide work-week reduction?

by
Tom Blumer

Bio

May 10, 2013 - 12:09 am

One summer during the early 1970s, I was given a document distributed by a protest group which came from the Students for a Democratic Society or one of its radical affiliates. The item pretended to present a comprehensive platform for reshaping a “just” society.

One of its key economic positions was something which recently, thanks to the passage and clumsy implementation thus far of the statist “train wreck” known as ObamaCare, has become a very hot topic: the idea of a 30-hour work week.

The radicals wanted to make it the law of the land. Since I had recently worked 48-hour weeks at a minimum-wage summer job washing dishes, I found their proposal interesting but completely unappealing. Why, after considering overtime, would I have wanted to take a 42 percent pay cut? Their simplistic answer was to make the minimum wage about twice its then-current level of $1.60 per hour, and to force employers to pay the same amount of money for only 30 hours of work. Even as a teenager, I was smart enough to know that as the person most recently hired, I would have been the first person fired if they had gotten their way.

It turns out that the idea of a 30-hour work week in the U.S. is at least nearly a century old. Its lineage ultimately goes back to Karl Marx’s long-discredited idea of “surplus labor.”

In 1919, the 30-hour week was a central but ultimately abandoned demand in nationwide negotiations between unionized coal companies and their United Mine Workers members. A measure mandating it passed the U.S. Senate during the early months of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term in 1933, but somehow failed to get through the Democrat-dominated “rubber stamp” House. Though that’s much further than the idea should have advanced, modern leftists are probably dreaming when they assert that such legislation “almost” become law. Master politician FDR publicly supported it, but insisted on so many conditions before he would consider it acceptable that he effectively killed the measure without the messiness of a veto.

The 30-hour week, with hourly wages raised by one-third so that no worker’s pay would suffer, often accompanied by a requirement to pay double-time instead of time-and-a-half for additional hours, remained a favorite goal of Big Labor during much of the 1960s, championed at different times by railway workers, the United Auto Workers, and others. The UAW’s Walter Reuther supported the idea while claiming, as interpreted by the Associated Press, that:

… he sees no end in sight for organized Labor’s demands for more pay and improved working conditions so long as the American economy keeps expanding.

… He said unions will never let up so long as they feel their demands are “economically just and economically necessary” and while science and technology continue to create more abundance.

The 30-hour work week became doomed in the late-1960s and early 1970s, thanks to two recessions and firms in other countries becoming legitimate industrial competitors. But it wasn’t forgotten, and is still considered an important goal in many leftist quarters.

As to ObamaCare, the law dictates the following: “The term ‘full-time employee’ means, with respect to any month, an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week.” It also “requires any business with 50 or more full-time employees to provide at least the minimum level of government-defined health coverage to those employees.”

That new definition and its related requirement have given rise to a new guideline for small business survival. Known as “49 and 29,” it suggests that small firms would be very unwise to expand their operations beyond 49 full-time employees as defined by ObamaCare, or to allow part-timers to ever work more than 29 hours in a given week, lest they accidentally move into the law’s full-time category. Large companies also have an incentive to keep as many employees as possible below the 30-hour threshold.

Last Friday’s employment report – especially because the administration expressed pleasure with its results — makes you wonder if ObamaCare, among other things, wasn’t deliberately designed to force the country over the long-term to accept a work week of just under 30 hours, something we’ve always seen as part-time employment, as the “new normal” definition of a full-time worker.

Seasonally adjusted government figures for April show that the private sector added 176,000 jobs, while average total weekly hours worked dropped from 3.926 billion to 3.909 billion, a fall-off of almost 16.6 million hours. That difference, the largest since October 2009 when the economy was still losing jobs, caused the number of “full-time equivalent” jobs (i.e., total weekly hours divided by 40) to fall by a stunning 416,000.

Other evidence abounds that an already existing trend toward hiring part-time help has accelerated, while full-time work is stagnating. The economy is still almost 2.6 million jobs short of where it was at its January 2008 peak, but one area of employment has just fully recovered while reaching a seasonally adjusted all-time high of 2.66 million workers. That category would be workers at temporary help services, many (probably most) of whom are either part-timers or usually don’t put in consecutive months of full-time work. Since the recession as officially defined ended in June 2009, the economy has added 913,000 temps, a stunning 17 percent of all employment growth during that time.

Anecdotally, here are just a few of the employers who have officially or unofficially taken concrete steps to keep part-timers’ hours below 30, busted full-timers down to part-time, or both: KrogerCircle K SoutheastRegal Entertainment; the city of Long Beach, California; and the state of Virginia. Many others are taking their actions quietly to avoid leftist protests and intimidation.

At the rate things are going, it shouldn’t be too many more months before everyone will have to admit that ObamaCare’s 30-hour full-time employment definition is on track to permanently alter the nature of work and employment in America — and not for the better. Last week, even the Associated Press referred to a well-known economist who cited it as “a reason some employers are holding back” on hiring.

Is all of this really, as Democrats and their press apparatchiks want to claim, an “unintended consequence” of ObamaCare? Well, Obama himself said in 2008 that his presidential campaign was all about ”fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Why should we automatically assume that this isn’t a deliberate part of that transformation, leading to a slow but sure adoption of the radical left’s and Big Labor’s long-time dream?

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

Along with having a decades-long career in accounting, finance, training and development, Tom Blumer has written for several national online publications primarily on business, economics, politics and media bias. He has had his own blog, BizzyBlog.com, since 2005, and has been a PJM contributor since 2008.

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Top Rated Comments   
Ah, the four day work week. Great idea. We can finally accommodate the rapidly growing (and not integrating) Muslim population by taking Friday off along with Saturday and Sunday. Reactionaries who insist on owning their own businesses or engaging in creative pursuits and working longer hours could simply be taxed at a higher rate until they comply to the national labor scheme.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Millions of people in Russia starved when the Soviet Union began forcing their socialist schemes on the people.

The idea sounds great on paper, if you don't take anything else into consideration. Who wouldn't want to be fully employed and only have to work 30 hrs./week? But there would be a ripple effect. Prices would have to rise to make up for less work at more pay—buying power would diminish. So fix prices. Then profits would go away, businesses would stagnate, the economy would stagnate, businesses would close, unemployment would rise, and people would either go black market or starve. The idea sounds great, but is completely unworkable like every other socialist/communist scheme.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I grew up on a farm and let me tell you something - a full time job is whatever it takes to get the job done. 10 hours a week or 100. You are not done until the last cow is milked and maybe not even then. So I think it may well have been an unintended consequence made by people who have counted the 40 hour week as an immutable achievement of the left. DO not fall into that trap. There is nothing full time about 40 hours a week. It is just a number. like 49. France has the 49 rule and also companies with 49 employees like a dog has fleas. So I think it may actually be a boon because it will spread the work out over a larger number of people leaving less people dependent on assistance. For those in a hurry working two 29 hour weeks would still leave them doing less than 60 a week and give them time to run pizzas or the like in their spare time. So the response to Obamacare may actually free up labor markets and allow free market forces to bring discouraged workers back into the workforce by putting employer needs together with willing workers more efficiently. As a recovering liberal I am falling on the floor laughing - health care reform = labor market reform. I tell ya, that Obama is a genius!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (45)
All Comments   (45)
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It's like I told the guys at work when Obama got re-elected: maybe we'll vote more wisely when we're a nation of people where every adult works two 25-hour-per-week jobs to make ends meet and still can't get health insurance.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Enough half-measures: One job per family, and full employment !
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
No problem. To survive, work two "jobs" at 29 hours apiece, for a 58 (or 60 if you're lucky) hour workweek.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Segements of the services industries have long figured out how to leverage less than a 40-hour employee work week. Surely, most other industries can do the same. IF mandated employee benefits were to be completely repealed and healthcare insurance mandated by the states, in both the private and public sectors, it would be a different country almost overnight. Both healthcare and retirement should be the responsibility of the employee.

Until such time, americans who are spoiled, had better learn how to live on less work hours per week, which will also affect their retirement funding. Employee benefits far outweight government regulatory policies in making a drag and non competitiveness in a global market for our domestic economies.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
All I know is, when this new rule got implemented, my work schedule got cut from 32 hours a week to 28. This wiped out 5 years' worth of pay raises.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you voted for obama, or didn't bother to vote, you earned this.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Within the context of its inadvertant "implementation," the "29hr workweek" could prove a boon to retirees with skills, because it would supplement whatever pension/SS compensation they get. And, since full retirement is becoming a thing of the past, a lot of seniors will be loking for such work. That, in turn, would further disadvantage young workers, who are the other candidates for such jobs; these would be the same young people who will now be paying more for health insurance because Obamacare mandates it (the market would have young people paying LESS, not more, by contrast). A great recipe for generational warfare, yes? One more example of the government spreading misery by distorting the market.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm glad to see someone like Blumer remembering Obama's 2008 promise to fundamentally transform America. That's been pretty much forgotten up to now by almost everyone in this country. Most if not all conservative pundits have not or rarely mentioned it. Obama's promise to transform America has so many legs that we haven't thought about. The 30-hour work week might be one of them, and that's one way to turn the middle class into the lower class. Communism did that in Russia. It created two classes: the super rich bourgeoisie and the real poor schmucks. It looks like this country is heading in that direction to achieve his goal of everyone being dependent on the federal government for their existence.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
30 hour work week? Never going to happen.

NOBODY is going to Obama to triple his work load.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our brainless idiots in Washington and the White house don't understand for every economic action they take that there is an equal and opposite reaction.
If employers are cutting to 30 hours a week to avoid health insurance and the government reduce the minimum to 20 hours , the employers will reduce the hours worked accordingly.
Of course this will allow the employee to apply for food stamps,free medical,earned income tax credit and subsidized housing and provide the Democrats with more subsidized voters
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Adjuncts at universities and community colleges in Virginia are being deprived of their ability to earn. Adjuncts typically find as many hours as possible at a school and then travel to another to pick up a few more hours there. If an adjunct is willing to work hard and is lucky enough to get hours to teach, the adjunct can earn about $25,000 a year. But states typically count one hour teaching as four hours of work. Thus, an adjunct now can teach seven hours a week, but not eight. Eight would put the adjunct over thirty hours of work per week, and thus eligible for health care. This ruling will cause adjuncts to lose about 30% of their pay, which already is about the lowest pay for any workers with masters degrees. Some people in Virginia are beginning to organize and to bring attention to this problem. Ironically, nearly all adjuncts I know (and I was one for many years) are all unquestioning, deeply committed Obama fans.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
A comment highlighting "i want more...more...more.... Thats been the mantra of most citizens for the last several decades lending to that aritrary and circular inflation thing everybody likes to self servingly ignore. Eventually, that more and more becomes unsustainable to our national economy
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
As I understand it, adjuncts teach 80% of college classes nationwide. They are truly the "migrant workers" of higher education. It is grotesque hypocrisy that the most "progressive" group of Americans -- academics -- would tolerate and insist on such a system. Most of the influential progressives who help implement disastrous national policies are tenured academics, or the "20%" in this case.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
On the other hand, if we were to return to the academic standards of the past (pre 1970s) for admissions to college, we would need far less adjuncts and have more very sharp graduate TA's filling in. What our nation really needs, is far more highly skilled instructors in our our technical schools and more of those schools.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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