Audit Notes: Retail life, statutes of limitations, newspaper bulls

CBS MoneyWatch looks at how shops jerk workers around

CBS News’s MoneyWatch is good to take a hard look at life for workers in the retail industry, which not only pays abysmally but keeps workers in part-time positions with unpredictable hours:

…the use of “flexible” labor practices is making life difficult for millions of retail and other employees. Employers are not only keeping a lid on hourly wages, but also rationing hours while requiring workers to be available to work at all hours of the day or night, on weekends and during holidays.

The upshot: With the retail sector shaping up to be the second-largest provider of jobs in the U.S. over the next decade, a growing swath of America’s workforce can no longer be sure from one week, day and even hour to the next when they will work or how much they will earn…

High turnover lets employers limit other costs, such as pay raises and layoffs. Another perk as far as many companies are concerned: Employing mostly part-timers whose schedules change frequently makes it difficult for workers to unionize, said Katherine Stone, a professor of law at UCLA and an expert in employment law.

More like this, please.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story on how the Justice Department is using a relatively obscure 1948 law to prosecute financial fraud cases where the statutes of limitations have expired (emphasis mine). The law allows the government to dispense with time limits when it’s at war. And we’re always at war these days.

Federal law typically gives prosecutors five years to bring charges after an alleged crime. But the Justice Department is under pressure from some in Congress to bring more cases, and handicapped by a shortage of resources it is turning to obscure laws dating to the World War II era and to the savings-and-loan crisis to buy itself more time.

This is good context on the lack of resources prosecutors have:

The government needs extra time because prosecutors diverted resources from white-collar cases to focus on national security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Rick Morgan, a former attorney for the Justice Department’s civil division. “The investigative machinery ground to a halt,” he said.

Justice Department statistics show that after 2001, investigative agencies began “referring” fewer white-collar crime cases for prosecutions. By 2006, the number was down 64% to 7,761 referrals, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

— Newspapers slowed their revenue decline sharply last year, which counts as good news for that beleaguered industry.

But NetNewsCheck reports that the Newspaper Association of America’s outgoing chairman actually predicts the newspaper industry will start growing again by next year.

Jim Moroney, also Dallas Morning News publisher, said this:

“As an industry, we’ve got barrels of whoop ass left,” he said, “and all we’ve got to do is put it on.”

Good luck with that!

Moroney might be right about a return to revenue growth, though, as more papers realize they have to get readers to pay for their content. The question is whether any such growth will be a one-time blip or whether papers will be able to steadily grow circulation and other revenues.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,