The Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously approved a new law that requires large retail and fast-food employers to schedule employees’ shifts 14 days in advance and compensate them for any last-minute changes to their schedules, the Seattle Times reports:
The law is expected to take effect in July and will apply to large retailers and quick-serve food and drink establishments with 500 or more workers, and to full-service restaurants with both 500 or more employees and 40 or more locations. Backers say the law will protect employees from erratic and variable work schedules and from not getting enough work hours.
Employers would be required to give good-faith estimates of hours an employee can expect to work upon hiring, post work schedules two weeks in advance, provide at least 10 hours rest between opening and closing shifts, give available hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new workers, and pay additional “predictability pay” when employers make changes to the posted schedule. The measure also requires employers to keep records for three years, documenting everything from responses to employee requests for schedule changes to good-faith estimates of the number of hours an employee could expect to work.
San Francisco became the first American municipality to mandate “fair scheduling” when its Board of Supervisors passed a “retail workers’ bill of rights” in 2014. New York City officials also announced last week that they were looking into introducing similar legislation for fast food workers. Prompted in part by the rise of scheduling software that allows employers to staff more efficiently but leaves many employees not knowing their work schedules until the last moment, the fight over scheduling is fast supplanting efforts to raise minimum wage as the labor cause du jour, Adam Chandler remarks at the Atlantic:
But like minimum-wage initiatives, the scheduling ordinances have vocal detractors. Opponents of San Francisco’s measure, which was enacted in 2014, claim that the new policy has led to job cutbacks and reduced hours as well as less flexibility for the service-industry workforce. Ahead of Seattle’s vote, retailers were particularly outspoken about their resistance to the scheduling bill. “In our opinion, the proposed Seattle ordinance would do nothing to improve upon our relationships with employees, and would impose administrative requirements that could make it more inefficient to run the business,” wrote an executive from Costco, a company frequently praised for its progressive business practices. Among those also standing in opposition to the ordinance were Starbucks, Home Depot, JC Penney, and others.
The measure was also met with dissent from a group of over 1,000 Seattle-based workers at restaurants with sit-down service. “My decision to work in the Full Service restaurant industry is in part because of the freedom and flexibility it affords me to craft a schedule that suits my life,” read a petition by the Full Service Workers Alliance of Seattle. It went on, “By removing this flexibility in the proposed legislation, your actions will negatively impact my life and income and create many serious problems you say you are trying to address.”
These latest moves come as advocates are stepping up a pressure campaign to urge businesses to provide their hourly employees with more predictable schedules and end the practice of on-call scheduling. Some major employers of shift workers, such as Walmart, have been experimenting with new technological solutions to allow them to schedule staff flexibly and precisely without creating headaches for employees, but many activists prefer legislative solutions like Seattle’s. A similar debate is ongoing in the UK, where the practice of zero-hour contracts has come under increased scrutiny for its impact on employees.