By Jaymee Cuti of Portland, Oregon. Jaymee is a former news editor for Just Out newspaper. Previously, Jaymee contributed "When Quitters Win: The Great Recession gives rise to labor claims"
For Oregonians, the Great Recession is most apparent in the easily measurable rate of unemployment—the second highest in the nation. According to data released last month by the Oregon Department of Employment, the state’s joblessness rate sat at 12 percent in April.
Yet the down economy also hurts those who never get a pink slip.
One recession-provoked trend has been the increase in part-time and temporary workers with the decrease in full-time workers. The Oregon Department of Employment’s numbers comparing March 2008 with March 2009 indicate that while the full-time workforce has shrunk from 121,241 to 113,665, a 6 percent decrease, part-time employees have risen from 24,755 to 26,963, a 9 percent increase.
According to Meg Heaton, an attorney with the Northwest Workers Justice Project, temp work is at best a mixed blessing for workers.
“It gets people to work who otherwise wouldn’t have income,” she said, “but the contracts that govern those arrangements leave temp workers ineligible for unemployment benefits.”
Other workers have accepted “furloughs,” mandatory, unpaid time off. “Furloughs aren’t new, but they really have become more popular as of late,” said Craig Spivey, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Employment.
His office has seen an increase in its Work Share Program, which supplements a portion of workers’ pay if their hours are reduced. In April 2008, Work Share supplemented 1,223 workers’ paychecks. “We key more than that in a day now,” said Karla Rebo, who administers the state’s Work Share program. In April 2009, 25,890 workers received Work Share funds—a sharp increase of 4,793 claims from the previous month.
Workers whose places of employment go belly-up overnight can seek redress through the Wage Security Fund, which assists workers who don't receive their final paychecks after employers abruptly close shop. “We have yet to see an increase in the number of Wage Security Fund filings, but we anticipate that this may be slightly delayed since a qualified claim can only be filed if the business has closed,” said Kate Newhall, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Many of Heaton’s clients will take advantage of the Wage Security Fund, which can reimburse workers up to $4,000. “We’re having a hard time tracking down construction contractors who owe back wages. They’ve gone out of business, they don’t answer their door, they’ve lost their Construction Contractors Board licenses,” said Heaton. “Even if you have a great case that’s provable, you can’t get your client anything if you can’t find the defendant.”
For more information:
- U.S. Department of Labor employment law hotline, 866-487-9243.
- Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, 971-673-0761.
- Oregon Department of Employment, 800-237-3710.
- Northwest Workers' Justice Project, 503-525-8454