US employers slashing worker hours to avoid Obamacare insurance mandate

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
By Paul Martin

Trend sparks fears among low-paid workers that they will be hit twice: by having earnings cut and paying more for healthcare

Karen McVeigh
TheGuardian.com
Monday 30 September 2013

Avita Samuels has worked at the Mall of America in Minneapolis for the last four years, juggling a sales job with her studies in political science and law at the University of Minnesota. The 24-year-old has been the top sales associate for the last three years and works between 29 and 35 hours a week. But over the past few months, she said, she has watched as friends working in stores around her have their hours and benefits slashed – and she’s worried that she will be next.

Forever 21, the clothing store, told staff last month in a memo leaked to the press that it planned to cut hours and reclassify some full-time workers as part- time. The move, which the company denied had anything to do with President Barack Obama’s health reforms, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), will nevertheless help it avoid a mandate under the legislation requiring companies with 50 or more employees to offer those working 30 hours a week or more health insurance. Earlier this month, Seaworld, which operates 11 entertainment parks across the US, capped hours for part time workers at 28, down from 32, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Other retailers, such as Trader Joe’s and Home Depot have said they will no longer provide medical coverage for part-time employees, and will shift them instead to the public healthcare exchanges which open Tuesday, 1 October. Some employers have said their health costs will rise as a result of various provisions of the ACA, which takes full effect in 2015, when larger companies have to provide health benefits to full time workers or pay a $2,000 per-person fine.

The trend has caused fears among low-paid workers living on the breadline that they will be hit twice – by having their hours and thus earnings cut and by having to pay more for healthcare. Based on what she said is happening in the stores around her, Samuels is concerned she too will have her hours cut and with it her eligibility for company healthcare under the ACA.

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