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If Employers Like Staples Use Obamacare as Excuse to Cut Worker Hours, Their Plans May Backfire

Bullying bosses may find that sidestepping the ACA is not without risk.

Photo Credit: PathDoc/


Recently, someone calling herself “Sue Whistleblower” posted a petition on charging that Staples ordered managers not to schedule any part-time workers for more than 25 hours per week in order to avoid providing health insurance. Could this be the dreaded “Obamadodge”?

The Affordable Care Act has a provision, taking effect in 2015, which says that people working at least 30 hours a week count as full-time employees. Big companies of 50 people or more either have to provide affordable healthcare to such workers or fork over a big penalty.

From the get-go, Republicans have been howling that Obamacare would kill jobs and turn many full-time employees into part-timers. Have they been right? Or are they just blowing hot air?

Let’s try to sort this out.  

Too Early To Tell

First of all, it’s really too early to tell what kind of impact Obamacare is going to have on the jobs market. Economic analysts across the political spectrum seem to agree on this point. Conservative economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s told the New York Times that he doesn’t see any impact yet, and progressive economist Dean Baker said in a recent congressional hearing that there’s not much evidence to support the claim that the law is having an effect on workers’ hours.

True, there’s been a recessionary trend of employers moving workers from full- to part-time, but this can be explained by weak demand for goods and services in the economy. There has also been a longer trend of employers cutting full-time jobs as a cost-cutting maneuver, which often backfires (more on this shortly).

If Obamacare were a big factor in worker hours, there would have been a significant increase in the trend as we move closer to implementation. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, one ginormous employer, Walmart, which had been trending toward hiring temp workers to avoid the ACA, just announced that 35,000 part-time employees will soon be moved to full-time status. Apparently, Walmart is learning that short-term cost-cutting shenanigans can eventually impact your brand and your customer satisfaction as service decreases and stores fall into disarray. Walmart execs were starting to see people shop elsewhere, so they've changed their tune.

It’s also true that many titans of the retailer industry, which includes a roster of rabid right-wingers, have vehemently opposed the ACA from the start and will bring any negative attention they can. They have not yet gotten the memo from Walmart that the negative attention may end up falling on themselves.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, has been hitting the Fox airwaves loudly trumpeting his heartfelt concern for workers who will get hit in the pocketbook because of Obamacare. While low-income workers who end up on the exchanges and qualify for subsidies will usually end up paying less for healthcare, it is true that middle-class workers who don’t qualify may end up paying more. However, Marcus’ professed concern for employees sounds a bit hollow when you consider who he is: A multi-billionaire, a staunch foe of the Occupy movement, and a man hostile enough to workers to say that any retailer who wasn’t fighting a law designed to make it easier for Americans to join unions " should be shot.”

But Bernie Marcus is not alone in using Obamacare as a cover for his real anti-worker agenda. San Diego Union-Tribune CEO John Lynch recently told employees that the company is suspending matches to the company's 401(k) plan partly because of “significant additional expense due to Obamacare.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, it must be noted, has also been described as a mouthpiece for developer and financier Douglas Manchester, a big-time GOP party contributor.