Across all industries, people are facing longer work hours and earning less. Simply raising the minimum wage won’t resolve the problem. Rampant underemployment and unemployment is the result of the skyrocketing use of mandatory overtime. In fact, one in every three workers have jobs that require it.[i] Long hours not only affect service or low-wage workers but office workers as well, with 62% of high earning professionals working more than 50 hours per week.[ii] As some work the equivalent of 2 or 3 jobs, others are jobless or underemployed. Longer work hours means less jobs and lower wages for all. Increasing the minimum wage alone will not resolve society’s inequality if we do not address long work hours. Simply put, mandatory overtime exacerbates income inequality and make us poor.
Three years ago, workers at Pactiv, a subsidiary of Reynolds Group Holdings, organized to confront and fight against the exploitation they faced at the plastic packaging factory. Pactiv retaliated against them by laying-off 60% of the packers and forced the remaining 40% of the mostly women workforce to do 100% of the work. “I worked two or three machines, and then when they fired the others, I started working five machines. My body started to deteriorate. I told [the manager] my body was not doing well. My back was hurting, I…was still forced to do overtime.” – Mei Rong Chi, former Pactiv worker. While Pactiv increased the wage rate by 15% for the remaining packers, their workload increased over 100% and they were forced to work overtime. The Pactiv workers saw that, to win, they would need to unite with all workers around the common goal of ending mandatory overtime.
Women bear the brunt of the work, recognized and unrecognized, in our society. In the Ain’t I a Woman?! Campaign, Pactiv women workers are leading the fight for all working people and our families. By concretely exposing how mandatory overtime is destroying working conditions and livelihoods, they point out to us the solution and the direction forward. “After working as an executive assistant for 18 years, I was laid off so that my company could force extra work on fewer workers. Since then, it’s been impossible to find a job with a 40-hour work week,” says Lea Geronimo.
Pactiv workers are being joined by students, office workers, caregivers, and many other workers to eliminate mandatory overtime. Will you too join this campaign at this critical moment so we can all work together to build a movement against income inequality and for justice for all working people?
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[i] Dembe, Allard E. Ethical Issues Relating to the Health Effects of Long Working Hours, Journal of Business Ethics, 2009, Vol 84, p. 198-199.
[ii] Id. at 197.