More Companies Using Disposable Employee Model

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What is the Disposable Employee Model?

1peetAfter Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Chicago fired a dedicated employee of 5-year tenure, and threatened to fire another, baffled Peet’s customers came to us asking, what is going on? Why is Peet’s getting rid of our favorite baristas?

We realized that it was time to explain in detail a system that has long been obvious to those on the inside. It’s called the Disposable Employee Model.

The D.E.M. is a strategic combination of policies that guarantees short-term employment among the bottom 80-90% of a company.

What companies use it? More each year, in particular: fast food companies, grocery stores, big box retailers, chain restaurants, and fast coffee.

What does the D.E.M. look like for a Peet’s Coffee & Tea employee?

  • Different work schedule each week (days/hours generated by computer software)
  • Mixtures of shifts that start as early as 4:45 a.m. and end as late as 10:00 p.m.
  • Fluctuating pay: employee scheduled 10 hours one week, 30 hours the next
  • Wages just above legal minumum
  • Annual “raises” not even cost-of-living increases
  • Benefits essentially unattainable
  • Shift lengths around 4-5 hours (working 5 days/week = about 20 hours)
  • Over-hiring practices that create an artificial labor hour scarcity
  • Gratuitously harsh but selectively enforced policies that allow the company to quickly dispose of any employee who sticks around long enough to start complaining about any of the previous issues

Customers inevitably ask, why would an employer use such a terrible model? Because chaos, instability, stress, scarcity, and fear are important elements in preventing and combating resistance. Think for a moment about the psychological influence of the model:

  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is “transitional”: Employees aren’t invested enough to protest, because they are constantly looking for a new job, which often comes in the form of a lateral move to a company with similar work conditions.
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is “supplemental income”: Employees do not complain about poverty wages, because the conditioned public response is always, “You’re not suppose to be able to LIVE on what you make there!”
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is not a “Real Job”: Employees do not hold the job to “Real Job” legal standards, accepting injuries, sexual harassment, discrimination, and intimidation as simply par for the course.
  • No full-time option means an employee must get a 2nd job to survive: Employees are too exhausted juggling 2-3 jobs to come together to try to influence company policy.
  • Defining a job as part-time implies that it is “unskilled labor”: Working in a society that values investment over labor, employees internalize rhetoric that demeans the value of their contribution to the company and shames them into silence about the abusiveness of their work conditions.
  • Harsh but selectively enforced rules keep employees in constant fear of losing their jobs:Employees know that raising any real questions with management about the dysfunction of the system is likely to make them targets for retaliation.

(Wouldn’t a business be better off investing in its employees instead of ruling them through fear? We believe so. Read this blog post about healthy business models used by profitable companies.)

What do Peet’s workers have to say?

“What’s the worst thing about the Disposable Employee Model? It teaches workers that they’re replaceable, and they know that if they speak up against their employer they will be gotten rid of and replaced by someone else. Will that new employee be better? Probably not. But it doesn’t matter.”
-Amanda D, disposed-of employee

“Our bosses have found a way to get by without explicitly intimidating their workers–as long as we believe that we are disposable and can be easily replaced, we will take it upon ourselves to be as agreeable as possible, and never even consider standing up for what’s best for us.”
-Emma BB, disposed-of employee

If you learned something from reading this post, please share it on social media! Short link: bit.ly/dempost, hash tag: #notdisposable.

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  • richardarcher

    The Disposable Employee Model isn’t limited to part time jobs in the fast food industry and retail. A variation on the model is used quite effectively by many companies that are viewed as traditional full time workplaces. The companies that follow the DEM variation use all the practices except those related to part time, short shift, and fluctuating schedules. Instead, the regular companies that employee the DEM variation go the other route: extracting work in excess of a standard full time work week, often without additional pay because the work is done outside company premises and what was customarily the employees’ free, personal, family time. The practice has been common among management and upper level professionals climbing the corporate ladder and people in that group may feel like they are in a DEM environment. However, because their effort is commonly associated with real possibilities for career advancement, they aren’t really DEM. Instead, the extra work, especially as companies have laid people off and divided up those peoples’ work among those left behind, is expected to be done in normal working hours or on the staff’s own time, but of course not reported for over time work or else paid as “salary” for positions that are not technically eligible to be classified as exempt from wage and hour laws. Not taking all available vacations and holidays falls in the mix for people working in a full time DEM environment, because taking time off shows that you are not committed to your job and the company. The constant message (implied threat) from these practices is “If you don’t want to work the extra hours or you want to use your leave, in the current environment we can always find someone else to put in your position who will be happy that they have a job at all.”

    A year or two ago, one of the big name consulting companies published their view which basically stated that any long term employee who had not moved up to management ranks was probably over paid relative to the value their experience and knowledge of the company and its business provided to the company. Basically, it was an “up or out” approach based on the assumption that the only employees who provide value to the company are management and executive personnel. Everyone else is interchangeable/disposable and provides no value beyond the minimal amount a company should pay for their time on task.

    • Emma

      Richard, your description of the way the DEM is used in full-time, “white collar” jobs is great! We’d love to get in touch with you, if you’d send us an email at peetsworkersgroup[at]gmail[.]com. Look forward to hearing from you!

  • Louis Kasatkin

    Greetings and Solidarity from Occupy Wakefield in the UK. I am currently planning a Hungerstrike Protest against what is termed “zero hours contracts” here in the UK. I too am a “disposable”.Please feel encouraged to contact me with regard to establishing links/contacts with like minded activists.

  • Russell La Claire

    Any place you don’t have a strong union, you find the Disposable Employee Model at work.

  • http://dodecadom.blogspot.com/ Logan Quinn

    IMHO Josiah Warren came up with the only solution to these big corporate labor issues way back in 1852, he called it Equitable Commerce.” Read all about it here: http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/warren/equcom.pdf

    Combine his system with my own Caloric standard of value I propose here: http://dodecadom.blogspot.com/2013/03/work-in-civilized-society.html

    And we’ll be on our way to living in an economically sustainable civilization where all are self-employed trading their services and goods with each other. The value of those goods and services being determined solely on how much energy (labor, transportation, etc) is needed to produce them.

    -No more corporations with their limited liability shield to protect them from repercussions of polluting the environment.

    -No more supply and demand, where corporations demand more money while restricting the supply of goods.

    -No more profiting off the labor of others.

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