By Dan Cook
The teen-focused clothing maker has cut back all its line workers to 29.5 hours a week in an apparent move to get around the health care benefits trigger of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The company didn’t cite the PPACA as the impetus for its decision — quite the opposite. It insisted that the decision was made “independent of the Affordable Care Act.” Rather, it was strictly the result of an internal audit of stores that indicated a new workforce design was needed, it said. As part of its response, Forever 21 also noted that it has promoted and converted 421 part-time store employees to full-time status since March of this year.
Nobody was buying it, especially because the company has been enjoying a huge growth spurt. Conservative and liberal bloggers and quasi-journalists alike quickly jumped to the conclusion that the PPACA had set off the hourly reduction that will impact “less than 10 percent” of Forever 21’s 30,000 employees, or fewer than 3000 people.
Given that 30 hours a week is the PPACA definition of a fulltime employee who must be offered health coverage, it came as no surprise that workers rights advocates quickly jumped all over Forever 21.
US Uncut, which describes itself as “a grassroots movement taking direct action against corporate tax cheats and unnecessary and unfair public service cuts across the U.S.,” ripped into Forever 21 and its CEO Do Won Chang after a company memo outlining the hourly realignment was leaked to the press.
“The CEO of Forever 21 is the 70th richest person in the country and has stripped workers of hours, benefits, and paid time off,” US Uncut posted on its Facebook page. The copy ran below a graphic that claims Chang and his wife “have a net worth of $4.5 billion” while “company’s cashiers make $15,198” a year.
Meanwhile, conservative critics of Obamacare portrayed Forever 21 and its employees as victims of the federal conspiracy behind the PPACA.
The right-wing American Thinker rushed to lay the blame for Forever 21’s actions at the White House doorstep.
“While liberals were busy bemoaning the low wages of the minimally skilled hamburger flippers and other fast-food employees, while Congress and the unions were busy exempting themselves from the Obamacare they pushed for, another group of workers was falling victim to the Unaffordable Health Care Act.” American Thinker didn’t exactly endorse Forever 21’s hourly cuts. But it did predict other employers would take similar action. More than a few, of course, have already said they intend to do so.