Municipal Government Part-Time Employee Benefits Practices

By Roberts, Gary E. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Municipal Government Part-Time Employee Benefits Practices


Roberts, Gary E., Public Personnel Management


Part-time employment is a basic human resource staffing in the United States and elsewhere. (1) In the United States, there were approximately 21.4 million permanent part-time employees comprising 15.8 percent of the 135.2 million member workforce. (2) In terms of local government, 1.6 million of the 10.4 million labor force (15.4 percent) works part-time. (3) A major research issue is the degree of employee benefits equity between full- and part-time employees that, in turn, is a major component of overall employment equity. (4) A major objective of this study is to determine whether municipal governments are assuming the role of "model employers" by providing benefits for their part-time employees.

In addition, there is an absence of research on the organizational, community, and benefits administration variables that are associated with the provision of part-time employee benefits as well as on the relationship between the provision of family-friendly benefits and the availability of part-time benefits. Are municipalities that emphasize work and family balance more likely to provide part-time benefits? To address the above questions, this study utilizes a large sample of municipal government personnel and benefits managers to identify the variables that are associated with the provision of part-time employee benefits.

Policy and Management Issues Associated with Part-time Employment

Municipal governments employ part-time workers for a variety of fiscal and service delivery reasons, including: 1. reduced compensation and benefits costs, 2. enhanced flexibility in service delivery and staffing, and 3. the opportunity to screen employees for full-time jobs. (5) Employees are attracted to part-time work because of opportunities for: 1. flexible schedules, 2. work and family balance, 3. career exploration, 4. work experience, 5. income supplementation (moonlighters), and 6. income generation while searching for a full-time job. (6)

Part-time employment is critiqued from a variety of public policy perspectives, including the absence of compensation equity (unequal pay and benefits for the same work), the preponderance of women and minorities perpetuating employment discrimination, the attenuation of career advancement opportunities through labeling of part-time employees as less committed (the "mommy track"), and a lowering of human capital investment and appreciation (underemployment). (7) From an employer standpoint, part-time employees can be relatively more expensive to supervise, manifest higher turnover rates, and take longer to reach full competency. (8)

Critics of part-time employment argue that the above negative aspects contribute to the development of dual labor markets between part-time "dead-end" jobs and primary full-time employment. (9) The majority of part-time employment (approximately 80 percent) is categorized as "voluntary," but labor economists disagree on the accuracy of the employment status measurement process. (10) Irrespective of the validity of the assessment process, structural changes in the world economy will continue to pressure organizations of all sectors to increase flexible and contingent labor market practices, including temporary, contract and part-time employment. (11)

The part-time labor market in the public sector differs significantly, however, from the private sector. Average hourly compensation levels in the private sector are significantly lower for part-time employment versus full-time employment, even within the same establishment and occupation. (12) In the governmental sector, civil service statutes mandate pay equivalency for identical work, attenuating somewhat the advantages of part-time employment relative to reducing wage costs. (13)

The issue is more complicated when benefits costs are compared for full-time versus part-time employees. Are the costs per hour equivalent for full versus part-timers? A recent private sector analysis found no significant differences between part-and full-time hourly benefits costs for all categories except for higher part-time health care expenditures (18 percent higher).

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