New York City Mandates Predictable Scheduling for Fast Food, Retail Employees

New York City Mandates Predictable Scheduling for Fast Food, Retail Employees

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a suite of bills into law on Tuesday that will require fast food and retail employers in the city to provide employees with more predictable work schedules, Reuters reports:

A key component of the package is a requirement that fast food restaurants schedule their workers at least two weeks in advance or pay extra for shift changes. … The legislation also ensures that fast food workers have breaks of at least 11 hours between shifts and are given the option of working additional hours before their employers hire extra workers. …

The New York City package, which takes effect in six months, also would ban unpaid on-call scheduling of retail employees and would enable fast-food workers to contribute voluntarily to worker advocacy groups or other non-profit groups, but not unions, through payroll deduction.

With this legislation, New York becomes the third (and by far the largest) US city to take aim at the controversial practice of on-call scheduling, which San Francisco targeted in its 2014 “retail workers’ bill of rights” and Seattle banned in a law its City Council passed last year. Another such law is scheduled to take effect July 1 in the Bay Area city of Emeryville, CA, and similar scheduling bills have been introduced at the state level in Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Texas.

According to the New York Daily News, however, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is working on a series of regulations that would preempt the city’s and offer employees somewhat weaker protections, albeit more than they currently enjoy:

Like with the city bills, the state rules being considered would guarantee employees extra money if shifts are canceled within a two-week period. But unlike with the city bills, the extra pay would not be attached to shifts added to someone’s schedule during that time, the source said.

Unlike the City Council bills that would mandate that retail stores give employees at least three days’ notice of their schedules, the state regulations under development would not bar the practice that requires employees to be on call until they are told whether they are needed that day, sources said.

The regulations reportedly being prepared by Cuomo’s administration are the latest example of efforts by state governments to preempt the implementation of new employment regulations at the municipal level, in order to avoid a patchwork of local regulations that would be confusing and costly for statewide employers to navigate. In most other cases, these preemption laws are being enacted by Republican-dominated statehouses to prevent liberal-leaning cities from imposing obligations on employers (A law that has passed both houses of Georgia’s state legislature, for example, would prevent cities from creating scheduling regulations like New York’s). Cuomo and de Blasio, on the other hand, are both Democrats.

Business groups oppose New York’s new law, saying it will raise costs and hurt small business owners, particularly franchisees. “The strict scheduling requirements,” Epstein Becker Green attorney John M. O’Connor writes at Lexology, “will challenge New York City’s retail employers to develop new means of managing their businesses impacted by the unpredictability posed by seasonal demand, customer fluctuation, weather, holidays, employee turnover issues, and other variations in day-to-day retail operations.” But whether to get ahead of inevitable regulatory changes or to make themselves more attractive employers in a tight labor market, a number of major retailers have voluntarily abandoned the practice of on-call scheduling. New technologies are also in the works to make it easier for employers to solicit unpredictable shift work without keeping employees on call.

The reasons why employees dislike variable scheduling are not hard to see: Being unable to predict their hours or earnings from week to week limits their ability to plan ahead financially, schedule out-of-work activities, or obtain secondary employment. In a feature at the New York Times, Patricia Cohen identifies variable scheduling as a significant factor in the income volatility that appears to be generating widespread economic insecurity among the US workforce despite low levels of headline unemployment:

“Since the 1970s, steady work that pays a predictable and living wage has become increasingly difficult to find,” said Jonathan Morduch, a director of the U.S. Financial Diaries project, an in-depth study of 235 low- and moderate-income households. “This shift has left many more families vulnerable to income volatility.” … Stability is worth a lot to workers. On average, employees are willing to give up a fifth of their weekly wage to avoid a schedule set by an employer on a week’s notice, according to a field experiment where workers were offered a range of alternative hours at different pay levels. …

In the course of a year, for example, the monthly income of a California family with one child that Mr. Morduch’s team tracked jumped to $5,279 from as low as $1,175. (Strict ethics protocols prohibit the release of participants’ names.) The husband supplemented his steady $400-a-week salaried construction job with extra remodeling work that could add from $323 to $1,588 a month to his total. His wife picked up from zero to $1,824 a month from babysitting, and from selling jewelry, clothing and flowers.