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For Many Part-Timers, Lifestyle Is By Choice Study Shows Third Of American Workers Are Part-Time, Temporary Or Independents

“Part-time America doesn’t work,” the Teamsters exhorted in their strike against United Parcel Service. Well, lots of part-timers are working, this Labor Day and any day.

Labor’s irregulars - all those without the pensions, holidays and sometimes the money of the average worker - carry a large share of the load these days.

Almost one in three workers is in a nonstandard job, the Economic Policy Institute and a women’s group reported Sunday in research that takes a rare glimpse into that side of the labor market.

The study concludes that irregular jobs tend to be poorer ones. They pay less per hour than similar full-time work and offer fewer ladders to success.

If that’s not the sweetest deal, it’s not the sourest, either. For the most part, people seem satisfied with how that work fits into their lives.

“No benefits. No vacation. My health insurance lapses this month,” said Colin Delany, 28, embarking on a stint as a temp designing Internet Web pages while working to get his own Web business running in Washington.

But he’s confident enough to turn down full-time opportunities and says: “It looks promising so far.”

Labor economist Gary Burtless contends the part-time market - stable over decades - exists because workers more than companies want it.

“That is the wish of the work force,” said Burtless, who worked with the Carter administration. In 1990, he wrote a book titled “A Future of Lousy Jobs?” that leaned toward the gloomy. Now his answer is brighter.

At least by the figures, he said, “It’s the best Labor Day workers have had for some years.”

At the Advantage temporary agency in Washington, corporate downsizing and outsourcing are bringing in professionals. It’s also where Johnsie Jackson, out of the labor force for 17 years, has found a few days a week of receptionist work that does not demand high computer skill.

“It’s becoming the retiree’s favorite lament,” she said of her return to work. “Too much month at the end of the money.”

The new study finds a majority of nonstandard workers is paid substantially less per hour than equivalent full-time staff, a condition far more likely in the case of women.

Chief among them are the cashiers, waiters and cooks for whom Labor Day is not a day of rest.

Overall, says economist Edith Rasell, one of the study’s authors, “most of the people (in irregular jobs) want to do this kind of work. People are satisfying other demands in their life.

“But they are also taking these cuts in pay,” she said, calling that finding “one of the last loopholes” in pay-discrimination laws.

With unemployment at its lowest in a quartercentury, business and labor clearly are feeling their oats.

“American manufacturing is back,” the National Association of Manufacturers declares in its Labor Day message.

“Revitalized unions are once again flexing the kind of muscle it takes to make America work for workers,” asserts the AFL-CIO, heartened by the Teamsters’ contract gains from UPS and a couple of other resolute strikes. When Teamsters chief Ron Carey said part-time doesn’t work, he meant it is bad for workers.

“The issue of contingent workers is felt throughout the American workplace,” said John Calhoun Wells, chief federal mediator, who spent untold hours shepherding the UPS-Teamster talks. “But I think it’s an issue that cuts both ways.”

Tags: Employment