As Advocates Push to End On-Call Scheduling, New Technology May Offer a Solution

As Advocates Push to End On-Call Scheduling, New Technology May Offer a Solution

On-call, last-minute, and “zero hours” scheduling are the latest targets for activists seeking better work conditions for hourly retail and restaurant employees, many of whom have constantly changing schedules that lead to unpredictable incomes. Starbucks and Walmart, both of which employ vast numbers of hourly workers, recently announced plans to amend their scheduling systems so that employees can have more consistent and predictable hours. This week, a group of advocates based in New York launched a national campaign to put pressure on other organizations to make similar reforms, the Associated Press reports:

The campaign follows recent agreements by several large retailers with New York’s attorney general to end the practice in that state. The Center for Popular Democracy, the Rockefeller Foundation and the online organization Purpose are calling for scheduling at least two weeks in advance, eliminating on-call assignments that leave employees scrambling for child care, unable to hold second jobs and with uncertain paychecks. …

They say three in five American workers — about 75 million people — are paid hourly, with recent job growth mainly in low-wage jobs, often part-time and subject to last-minute scheduling practices. The Workshift campaign, formed by Purpose and the Rockefeller Foundation last year, says employer software aimed at savings and efficiency is behind the growth in last-minute worker scheduling with broad consequences. Those include lower pay, higher job turnover and unhealthy series of changing or extended shifts with little rest.

What we’re seeing from more progressive companies is experimentation with new-to-world apps to better match the supply of “last minute” jobs with the demand from employees to work more shifts—but on their terms.

For example, if an employee at a retailer calls in sick or if there’s a sudden surge in traffic because of a local event, a manager can send out an “Uber-like” request via a company app (internally developed or third party). The request would go to other employees qualified for the job who are not on shift, but near the location of the job. These workers can then decide whether to take the shift. The UK startup Scaled Networks is beta testing a similar AI-based platform to help employers hire shift workers for one-off events.

It’s hard to reduce the variability in the demand for work on short notice, but technology like this can positively shift the balance of power in favor of employees, while employers can rely on the power of numbers to find the staff they need when they need them.