fresh voices from the front lines of change







For six years, Republicans in Washington have blocked almost every effort to improve conditions and wages for working people. Around the country, cities and states are no longer waiting for Washington to act, and are taking things into their own hands. They have passed laws increasing the minimum wage and requiring sick pay for workers. Now San Francisco has passed, and is waiting for the mayor to sign, a groundbreaking law that lets employees know in advance when and where their work shifts will be.

People Are Fed Up

Congress is "gridlocked," which is Washington-speak for Republicans are obstructing everything that might help regular, working Americans. People want protections and improvements. Brigid Schulte writes in The Washington Post:

As many as 73 percent of voters surveyed by The Pew Research Center earlier this year favored raising the minimum wage. And 86 percent of those surveyed in recent years by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago favored legislation to guarantee workers paid sick days.

People are giving up waiting for Washington to act, and are going ahead to make things happen locally. Cities and states around the country are passing local minimum wage increases and other laws to help working people. For example, we've seen it with minimum wage ballot initiatives passing in November — even in states that voted "red" — and votes by local governments. Connecticut and California and Massachusetts have passed laws to give workers paid sick days, as have numerous cities.

Now we have seen a groundbreaking new law pass in San Francisco that will block "abusive work schedules," and enable retail and restaurant workers to know their work schedule in advance.

The Problem

Corporations see employees — you and me — as costs to be minimized. A number of companies are using computerized "workforce optimization systems" shift-scheduling programs that many call "abusive" to the humans they employ. These programs decide how many workers are needed at any given time of day, depending on the weather, sales at nearby stores and other factors. Instead of having regular work hours employees are considered to be "on call," and don't know if they have a work shift — or even how long it might be if they have one — until they show up.

At Mother Jones, Josh Harkinson explains the problem in "What If Your Boss Suddenly Told You to Come to Work on Thanksgiving?"

... last Friday, the Safeway where Flores works as a part-time cashier informed her that she'd be expected to work during on the holiday. She reluctantly called her friends to cancel their Thanksgiving plans.

... For millions of retail workers, similar disappointments are all too common. According to a recent study by Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, nearly half of young part-time retail employees receive their work schedules less than a week in advance. This is partly a symptom of retailers' increasing reliance on computerized "on call" scheduling systems that track weather predictions and real-time sales data to schedule work shifts—maximizing efficiency but wreaking havoc on workers' ability to manage their personal schedules.

At MSNBC Seth Freed Wessler writes, in "Shift Change: 'Just-in-Time' Scheduling Creates Chaos for Workers":

When a day care worker told Journelle Clark that her five-year-old daughter often cried because she missed her mother, Clark realized something was really wrong. The 32-year-old works unpredictable hours arranging window and wall displays at an Ann Taylor LOFT in Manhattan, never knowing what her schedule—or her paycheck—will be. She could get 15 hours one week and 40 the next. Sometimes she works all weekend, sometimes she doesn’t. She’s been called in to work at the last-minute and occasionally gets sent home early from a shift she’s already started.

“They expect me to be available all the time, 24/7,” Clark says.

San Francisco Offers A Local Solution

San Francisco has show the way to ending abusive scheduling practices and helping provide a more humane work environment — at least for workers inside city limits.

On November 18, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the "Retail Workers Bill of Rights." The city is waiting for their mayor to sign it, but there are enough votes to override a veto. This means that more than 40,000 people in 1250 locations — almost half of all such workers in San Francisco — will have reliable work schedules.

  • The measure requires employers to tell workers their schedules at least two weeks in advance. (It applies to retail stores, restaurants and hotels with 20 or more employees and 20 or more locations worldwide — roughly 12% of San Francisco retailers.)
  • Employers have to pay a minimum of 2-4 hours pay if they change the schedule with less than 24 hours notice.
  • Extra hours, when available, have to be offered to current part-timers before hiring new workers.
  • If a company is sold, workers employed at least six months are guaranteed work for at least 90 days.
  • Employers are not be allowed to discriminate against part-time workers over pay or promotions.

This bill was pushed by Jobs With Justice San Francisco. The law serves as a model, and could set a precedent nationally. It will also help bring many more workers closer to being organized

Conservatives Say Hire Fewer People When Demand Is High

Conservatives say the law won't work because employers just won't employ people to meet demand. The Republican Daily Caller writes,

“Anyone who has ever run a lemonade stand knows this won’t work,” Michael Saltsman, a research director at Employment Policies Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Saltsman predicts that the law will cause employers to give their employees less hours. Before a business may “staff up” or hire more part time workers to accommodate busy days or shifts, they will be less likely to do so knowing they may be penalized if they had to change the schedule at the last second because they got less or more customers then what they expected.

The law will also likely lead to worse service because fewer people than needed will be working a given shift.

Do Republicans really think a business will succeed if it punishes its customers by having fewer salespeople and checkout clerks when there is high demand? Only if those businesses don't have competitors.

Democrats In Congress Offer Solutions

Democrats in Congress have introduced the Schedules that Work Act. This act would:

  • Protect all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Create a process for employers to consider requests that is responsive to the needs of both employees and employers. Employees who make requests because they have caregiving duties, are dealing with a health condition, are pursuing education or training courses, or need to meet the demands of a second job must be granted the schedule change, unless the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.
  • Compensate retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Provide that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.
  • Provide workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts, or non-consecutive shifts within a single day.

Republicans will, of course, obstruct it.

See Retail Workers Bill of Rights.

Also see Jobs With Justice: Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco’s Retail Workers Bill of Rights.

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