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Phony Change.org Petition Protests Cuts to Part-Timers' Hours at Staples


An email from “‘Sue’ via Change.org” hit my inbox on Saturday, asking me to sign her petition.

Change.org itself is a fundamentally shady, personally invasive for-profit operation posing as a charitable petition-generating platform to “empower people everywhere.” For this column, let’s stick with what “Sue Whistleblower,” who says she won’t use her real name because she claims to be “afraid I’ll lose my job for what I’m about to tell you,” wrote.

“Sue” — we’ll assume that she’s a real person, but one can’t rule out the opposite — is “heartbroken” that big-box retailer Staples, her employer, decided in early December that effective with the week ending January 4, 2014, “part-time associates should not be scheduled to work more than 25 hours per week.” Staples has also informed managers that because of this move, they “may need to hire additional associates to ensure optimal staffing levels.”

“Sue” asserts that the company “decided to cut part-time employees’ hours just so they won’t have to provide health care benefits under Obamacare.” Although the company’s internal instructions to store managers are silent on the topic, it’s reasonable to believe that Obamacare’s long-known and widely known “employer mandate” was a major factor in the policy change. Under that mandate, employers with more than 50 workers must provide health insurance to anyone who puts in an average of 30 or more hours per week — a new and unprecedented definition of “full-time employee” — or pay a fine of $2,000 per uncovered employee (after an exemption for the first 30).

Thus, Staples has joined the 389 entities whose announced decisions to cut part-timers’ hours compiled at Investor’s Business Daily can arguably be tied to the employer mandate.

The Obama administration continues to insist that there is no discernible Obamacare-driven movement towards part-timers, and that the Everest-like mountain of accumulated evidence is merely “anecdotal.” That’s interesting, and two-faced. Knee-jerk leftist and lead administration apologist Paul Krugman, reacting to one person’s allegedly successful encounter with HealthCare.gov in October, repeated a statement he has been making for years: “[T]the plural of anecdote is data.” The fact is that few firms have publicly admitted Obamacare’s influence to avoid the leftist mob’s intimidation campaigns. One which has taken a public stance, but is not on IBD’s just-cited list, is Whole Foods. Over time, it will move 4,000 employees, or 5 percent of its workforce, from full-time to part-time specifically as a result of Obamacare.

That’s a lot of anecdotal “data,” Paul. Overall, part-timers have increased in number by over 2.6 million during the past 73 months. Meanwhile, full-time employment, still almost 4.6 million shy of it pre-recession peak, has been stuck at barely 47 percent of the adult population for four years — down from 52 percent when the recession began.

Over the weekend, I visited a Staples store where I once worked and asked an associate I know about the situation. That person confirmed that “corporate” had indeed issued the edict, and that certain employees at that store had not handled it well. That person also noted some of them had signed the Change.org petition “Sue” wants employees and members of the public to sign and had informed store management of their move (so much for “Sue’s” alleged fear factor).

“Sue’s” email contains four key deceptions.

1. “Staples doesn’t want to provide health care to its employees.”

Rubbish. Before Obamacare came along, employees needed “to work just 20 hours per week to gain access to most benefits,” including “medical, dental, life, vision and disability insurance.”

The company, whose benefits are also available to “same-sex spouses and domestic partners,” recently received its fourth consecutive perfect score of 100 percent in “a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality.” The company’s intent to be a leader in perceived employee-friendly policies while providing competitive returns to shareholders appears to be beyond dispute.

2. “Other chain employers such as Darden Restaurants (owners of Olive Garden and Red Lobster) reversed similar cuts after intense public pressure.”

Darden’s alleged reversal was over a year ago, and the company only said that “it would not change full-time employees to part-time positions because of the law.” (By the way, Darden announced in mid-December that it “will spin off or sell Red Lobster [and] stop expanding Olive Garden.” Perhaps the company should have stayed the course.)

As far as I can tell, involuntary bust-downs from full-time to part-time are not the issue at Staples. Its move only affects hours worked by current part-timers who until now had typically put in 26 or more hours per week (only about six at the store I visited), and its future hiring mix.

3. “Sue’s” email dishonestly claims that Staples is “taking advantage of a loophole” in Obamacare, and implies that it is breaking the law when it asks signers to demand that Staples “comply with Obamacare.”

No one can reasonably accuse Staples of not complying with the Affordable Care Act. The company’s quandary is in how it should react to the law while remaining in full legal compliance. Progressives who backed Obamacare’s passage naively assumed that employers would just absorb the costs and burdens associated with the law while making no changes to their personnel practices. They’re angry that companies are doing what they feel they must to stay in business and provide adequate returns to their owners.

If Staples had done nothing, it would have incurred what management must believe are unacceptable additional costs that would seriously cut into the company’s already razor-thin 2.0 percent after-tax profit margin. On the other hand, it could have decided — as many employers surely will in the coming years — that terminating its employer-sponsored health plan, avoiding the higher costs Obamacare has forced into it, and paying the $2,000 per employee fine would be easier and less expensive. Unfortunately for “Sue,” who in nine years at the company remained a part-timer in her store’s Easy Tech Department, the company has chosen, from all appearances reluctantly, to adapt to Obamacare by protecting the benefits of its truly full-time staff. Staples is far from alone in doing this.

4. “Sue,” who says she “recently got married and … (has) a baby on the way,” acts as if she’s been blindsided.

Contradicting this pose, her email betrays a detailed preexisting and ongoing knowledge of the 30-hour issue. The online petition itself has revised its second-last paragraph to note that “our Government has also delayed the requirement until 2015,” but “somehow” forgets that full-time determinations will be based on hours worked during 2014.

The online petition, whose content differs significantly from the email and pretends that “Sue’s” knowledge came about because of “a little digging,” also mentions H-E-B, a company which almost no one outside of Texas has heard of, as another firm which has apparently tried to appease the mob.

The point is that “Sue” appears to be engaged enough to have anticipated this likely move by her employer, but didn’t plan for it. Whose fault is that?

I believe that Change.org’s petition targets would generally be wise to shrug off the web site’s artificially orchestrated efforts as meaningless noise. That would include “Sue’s” scurrilous screed against Staples.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

Update: Brianna Cayo Cotter, Change.org’s managing director of communications responds:

I just saw your column, “Phony Change.org Petition Protests Cuts to Part-Timers’ Hours at Staples” and wanted to reach out and request a correction based on some inaccuracies in the piece.

Your headline labels Sue’s petition on Change.org as “phony,” and the article suggests that “Sue” is not a real person (“we’ll assume that she’s a real person, but one can’t rule out the opposite”) and that Sue did not start the petition herself (“the web site’s artificially orchestrated efforts”).

It is inaccurate to describe Sue’s petition as “phony” or as Change.org’s “artificially orchestrated efforts.”

Sue launched her petition on Change.org on December 21, 2013. Change.org does not start petitions and does not take editorial positions on any of the campaigns started on our site, including Sue’s petition. Change.org is an open platform, meaning, anyone anywhere can come to the site to start a petition.

It is also incorrect to suggest that Sue isn’t a real person. Our team has had communication with Sue and her identity has been verified by independent journalists who have reported on Staples decision to cut employee hours (see recent BuzzFeed coverage of Sue’s petition here).

I ask that you to update the headline to correct the assertion that Sue’s petition is “phony” and correct the article to indicate that Sue is a real person who started her own petition on Change.org.

I’m available at (415) ***-**** if you would like to discuss any of this in greater depth.




Mr. Blumer responds that he’s entitled to his opinions and stands by his article. — The PJM Editors

The PJM Editors