Obama’s Right: Shame On Staples. Shame On The Republican House, Too.

Terrance Heath

The president is right. Staples is cutting workers’ hours (and paychecks) to avoid providing health insurance. Shame on them, but that’s only half the story.

Earlier this week, Buzzfeed reported that the office supply giant Staples Inc., has begun limiting part-time employees to no more than 25 hours per week. The company rolled out the new rules just in time to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which kicks in this year. The mandate requires companies like Staples to pay for health benefits for “full-time” employees, which it defines as anyone working more than 30 hours per week.

Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith asked President Obama about Staples’ blatant attempt to dodge covering its employees. The president didn’t hold back.

Staples fired back that its policy of restricting hours for part-time employees is over a decade old. “Unfortunately, the president appears not to have all the facts,” said Staples spokesman Kirk Saville. “It’s unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major tax payer.”

Statements from Staples employees, and the companies own notices and memorandums, say otherwise. One employee (now a former employee) complained about the policy on Reddit three months ago.

Hey guys first post! I’m just a little frustrated so I’m going to vent a little bit. So this whole 25 hours a week max thing is really pissing me off, with my salary and the bills I have to pay and also I would like to move out soon, I simply cannot live on my paychecks. For any of you that are in Management don’t think this is directed towards you guys because I know its because of ObamaCare which is another joke subject in itself. But I was just wondering if any of you guys have resorted to maybe a second job or just leaving altogether because of the cut hours?

Other employees chimed in on the comments, citing general managers who answered, “You can thank Obama for that,” to complaints about slashed hours. No one was buying it. One employee was particularly blunt in his/her assessment:

Haven’t you learned by now the only reason Staples exists is to pay Ron Sargent a bonus? Nothing else matters. He will have it, deserved or not. He will rewrite the rules to ensure he and his cronies get their due, while everyone else gets screwed.

It’s hard to argue with that. Staples CEO Ronald Sargent made $10.8 million in total compensation in 2013. Staples reported a quarterly net profit of $218 million in November. And those jobs Saville bragged about? Mitt Romney bragged about those jobs during the 2012 campaign as proof of his success in creating jobs at Bain Capital. But working at Staples is not a gateway to middle-class status. The average pay isn’t enough to support a family, or even pay rent in most cities.

This notice to associates shared with Buzzfeed cites “recent changes” as the reason for the 25-hour limit.

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Another notice, dated December 5, 2013, is even more specific, giving January 4 as the effective date for implementing this so-called more-than-a-decade-old policy.

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Of course, Staples can’t come right out and say it’s trying to get out of providing health insurance. But it is, and Republicans in Congress are trying to make it easy for other corporations to do the same. One of the first bills passed by the Republican House was the “Save American Workers Act of 2015,” would make it easier for companies not to provide health insurance for 1.5 million employees by changing the definition of “full-time” to 40 hours per week for purposes of the health care law.

This bill won’t just screw over part-time workers. Under this bill, a company could cut full-time workers to 39.5 hours a week, and get out of providing health insurance, with almost no loss in productivity. (Until someone gets sick, anyway.)

Corporations like Staples want an “Easy” button to get out of providing their workers with health insurance. Republicans are trying to give them one.

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