Kansas Republicans Again Stab Workers, And Democracy, In The Back

Isaiah J. Poole

Once again, that conservative maxim about the government that’s closest to the people serves the people best was thrown out the window by conservatives when it comes to protecting the interests of workers against the abuses of businesses.

The latest example is Kansas, which just passed a law that said that local governments could not pass laws regulating just-in-time work scheduling, the practice of scheduling workers for shifts with as little as a few hours notice. The practice makes it impossible for workers on such schedules to plan to work second jobs or attend classes during their off hours. Employers who engage in this real-time scheduling expect workers to be on call, uncompensated, for when they might be called to work.

Workers subjected to these kinds of schedules often do not know how many hours of work they will have each week – and thus can’t predict how much they earn.

The bill, passed by the overwhelmingly Republican legislature and sent to ultraconservative Sen. Sam Brownback, pre-empts local governments in other areas as well, including their ability to impose nutritional labeling or content laws (thus a jurisdiction could not require restaurants to post the caloric content of their food) and their ability to police real estate transactions or rental inspections.

It is a continuation of a trend that has picked up momentum in recent years as more harshly conservative state legislatures have opted to clamp down on the ability of progressive enclaves in their states to govern their jurisdictions as they see fit.

That happened recently in North Carolina, where a state law was passed to invalidate local LGBT-rights ordinances. North Carolina is also one of 19 states that have laws on the books telling cities that they cannot pass their own minimum-wage laws. The list – compiled by the National Employment Law Project – is a rogue’s gallery of worker-unfriendly states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

What the Kansas legislature was attempting to prevent was the spread of laws like one that passed last year in San Francisco, the “Predictable Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees Ordinance.” According to this fact sheet, the ordinance requires larger employers to post work schedules for employees at least two weeks in advance and requires employers to give due consideration to employee requests for changes. If an employer makes last-minute changes to the work schedule or requires a worker to be on call but does not actually summon the worker to work, the ordinance sets out how the worker is to be compensated for his or her time.

The organization A Better Balance has been fighting to get a bill called the Schedules That Work Act passed at the federal level. You can imagine the uphill battle getting such legislation passed nationally will be, when conservative legislatures won’t even allow democratically elected local officials to rein in the abuses against workers within their municipal boundaries.

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