Continuing the national trend toward workplace fairness in the low wage sector, DC’s City Council has taken up a bill that formally institutes responsible scheduling practices. Dubbed the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2016, the bill requires that employers provide employees’ schedule at least 14 days in advance, providing one hour of pay per shift changed within less than 14 days (called “predictability pay”). Employees are entitled to two hours of pay for on-call ‘shifts’, regardless of whether they are called in or not, in an effort to recognize the sacrifices employees make when they are not fully available during their off-time. Part-time employees are protected from wage differentials based on their part-time status, a worthy development in the wake of post-2008 workplace developments. Part-time employees are also protected from having their hours siphoned off by new hires; the bill mandates that employers must try to fill as many hours with existing part-time workers as possible, before resorting to hiring more workers. Ensuring accountability, the bill enforces a three-year recordkeeping limit upon employers – a seemingly simple, albeit sadly controversial, request.
The District’s proposed legislation, which is modeled after California’s Fair Scheduling Act of 2015, seeks to mitigate the constant state of uncertainty faced by low wage earners. Co-sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, this law addresses not only the financial insecurity placed on employees, but it also brings to attention the instability of day-by-day scheduling on other components of modern family life. Stated in the June 02, 2015 Assembly Floor Analysis, “The instability of day-to-day scheduling not only makes it difficult for employees to plan their finances, it also makes it difficult to secure and maintain child care and contributes to parental stress, family instability, and has been documented as resulting in poor school performance among these workers’ children.”
California’s first attempt at the fair scheduling legislation died in assembly, but its subsequent attempt through the Senate – SB878 – has loosened the advanced notice restrictions, decreasing the 14 day requirement down to 7 days’ notice. This version is now being held in the Senate Appropriations Committee, awaiting approval.
Pioneering this idea was San Francisco, a city at the helm of progressive policy ideation. Since it first went into effect on July 3, 2015, half of San Francisco’s retail employees (including restaurant workers, identified under the Bill of Rights’ ‘formula retailers’ definition) have been entitled to more hours for part-time workers, advanced notice in scheduling, and a couple of hours’ pay for cancelled shifts. Addressing the post-recession influx of involuntary part-time workers, employers are required to grant excess hours to part-time staff before hiring any new workers in times of excess demand. After part-time workers have reached 35 hours per week or they’ve declined the remaining hours, then and only then can an employer bring on temporary, regular hire, or independent contractor staff members.
Natural opponents of the legislation were the local retail trade associations and the SF Chamber of Commerce, who argued that the legislation would make it difficult for businesses to meet the fluctuating demands of the market. However, meeting market demands at the cost of employees’ well-being is generally considered a poor practice, and it comes at the cost of future turnover rates and workplace morale. Running a successful business requires strategic, multichannel thinking and thorough contingency planning – skills which, if not mastered, can render a business the victim of capitalism’s inherently Darwinistic nature.
Contrary to conservative concerns about economic well-being, employment in the Bay Area has kept up with national trends since the Workers’ Bill of Rights came into inception. San Francisco has enjoyed
unemployment rates below the national average, at 3.7% compared to the rest of the United States’ 5.1%. And while one might say that a zero unemployment rate is ideal, most economists are in agreement that unemployment is considered ‘near perfect’ or ideal at 3% – 4% (since organic market fluctuations will always account for a number of people being unemployed at any given point in time).
Similar legislation is currently being proposed in Minnesota, Maryland, and the city of Seattle, where the requirements are similar, if not identical, to that of San Francisco’s legislation. One notable exception is Seattle’s added request that workers receive a 10-hour minimum ‘rest period’ in between shifts, designed to minimize the burnout and fatigue that accompany a late-night closing shift followed by an early morning opening shift (which often beget an employee little more than 3-4 hours of downtime).
The effects of unstable scheduling are far-reaching, often punishing workers’ families for any inability to keep up with last-minute changes. Parents are often strained under constant need to arrange childcare at the last minute – a difficult feat, considering the overwhelming economic need for childcare that is both affordable and available. A 2011 study by Dr. Jennifer Swanberg and Liz Watson purports that 40-60% of workers who reported missing work due to child care problems also reported losing pay or benefits, or being penalized in some way.
The failure of a business to plan accordingly is a failure that will not be corrected as long as workers are the ones experiencing its consequences, despite having little to no control over the situation. These effects do not stop at the parents, either. Children of workers with unstable hours are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders and to drop out of school. Research estimates that 29% of youth from low-income families fail to graduate high school – a rate almost triple that of middle-income students (10%), and six times that of higher income youth (5%). And while opponents of the bill might argue that a large portion of low wage workers are students, researchers have found that the burdens of last-minute scheduling force many students to either compromise their academic success or reduce their hours, making the relative cost of higher education even more expensive for those who cannot afford it.
As District policymakers consider the costs of the Fair Scheduling Act, District residents are hopeful that they will give it its due thoughtful analysis, considering the widespread effects of a better-served working class. Although running a business has its share of inconveniences, a natural component of entrepreneurship in an ever-changing world involves the overcoming of such inconveniences; it is by definition the widely admired American entrepreneurial spirit. Disruption is inevitable, as is the presence of technology, international trade, and long-overdue workplace fairness legislation. But these obstacles pale in comparison to the societal burdens of a workforce under constant instability. Children from low-income families deserve a predictable environment with parents who are able to plan their schedules with the certainty that parenting requires. Measuring the real consequences upon a society and its children, it is clear that the District will benefit tremendously as a significant portion of its residents regain control over their daily lives.