"Aside from the material rewards, working overtime is a way of showing that you belong and can work as hard as anyone," said Elizabeth Rudd, a sociologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's largest academic survey and research organization. "It's also a way of improving your social status. As one worker told us, there's a stigma about doing factory work, but if you work a lot of overtime, you make enough money to shrug it off."
With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Rudd and colleagues at the ISR Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life have been conducting research at a Detroit area auto parts plant to learn more about work and family issues facing blue-collar manufacturing workers. So far, the researchers have interviewed 53 hourly and salaried workers, attended union meetings and social functions and spent time working on the line.
The study comes at a time when proposed changes to overtime eligibility and compensation are being considered as part of amendments to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and amidst a continuing economic slow-down that has reduced opportunities for premium overtime pay.
Many workers would not be able to make ends meet without overtime pay, Rudd said. But even for workers who do not need the extra pay to get by, Rudd identified significant social pressures to work overtime. While society may denigrate them, the factory workers she interviewed who can earn a six-figure income with overtime are keenly aware that this puts them in the same economic category as engineers or doctors.
Working overtime allows blue-collar workers to consume the same commodities as secure and successful white-collar professionals, Rudd pointed out. As a result, second homes, boats, SUVs and other high-ticket accouterments of higher social status have a value to blue-collar workers that is more than merely monetary. At the same time, Rudd found, workers recognize the irony that they don't really have the time to enjoy these luxury items because they're always working.
"The physical exhaustion, erosion of family relations and loss of personal life caused by working overtime all detract from the financial gains and acquisition of white-collar lifestyles that working overtime also produces," Rudd said. "Workers are acutely aware of the toll working overtime exacts and when they are forced into excessive overtime, they rebel.
"Yet when given a choice, many workers choose to work overtime. Besides the money, it provides a vehicle for workers to cultivate social belonging and dignity by demonstrating their ability to measure up to the demands of the workplace and to attain higher-status lifestyles outside the factory."
Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at www.isr.umich.edu for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive.
Editors: Labor Day is Monday, September 1, 2003