The phrase “9-to-5 job” connotes predictability, a lack of excitement and possibly Dolly Parton. With the exception of the last, that’s exactly what advocates are asking the Seattle City Council give local employees: a work schedule that they can count on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
Workers — particularly those paid by the hour, part-time employees and people of color — often have schedules that vary week to week in terms of the number of hours worked and when shifts are scheduled. They also may not see a schedule until days or hours before they are expected to report for duty.
A solution, advocates say, is a policy called “secure scheduling” that would restrict how employers could alter their employees’ working hours. Advocates in Seattle have asked that the Seattle City Council pass legislation regulating how employers set hours and notify employees of work schedules. The Seattle City Council Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts committee heard a review of academic literature on the subject on March 8.
According to research out of the University of Chicago, companies rely on labor flexibility to control costs. That means that employees could be called in or sent home with little to no warning, hurting their ability to plan their finances and their lives.
That puts significant strain on workers, particularly those with families, said Sejal Parikh, executive director of Working Washington, an organization that advocates for workers’ rights.
“One of our fast food workers, she gets her schedule on Sunday for the following Monday, and she doesn’t know what kind of child care she can provide for her family,” Parikh told the committee.
Janitorial, food service, retail and home-care employees see the most variation, said Susan Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the University of Chicago study.
In that study, workers reported variability in hours of almost 50 percent, meaning a 20-hour-per-week employee might find themselves working 10 hours one week and 30 the next.
Unpredictable schedules cause earnings to fluctuate wildly and without warning. They also make it more difficult for workers to plan for necessities like child care, education or even a second job.
The outcry over scheduling practices rose after a New York Times article that chronicled how Starbucks barista and single mother Jannette Navarro balanced work, a three-hour commute and child care with a constantly changing schedule.
While Starbucks did change its scheduling policies in 2014, retail associations warn that removing employer flexibility in scheduling will have damaging results.
“If our society doesn’t allow business to use its labor force as needed, it is asking for the quickest road to economic disaster,” wrote Jan Teague, president and chief executive officer of the Washington Retail Association, in a blog post in 2015. “Costs will be out of control. I see price increases ahead for retail goods and services.”
Secure scheduling laws already exist elsewhere in the country.
San Francisco’s “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights” applies to chain retail stores with at least 40 outlets worldwide and 20 or more employees within city limits. It requires employers provide schedules two weeks in advance and pay a premium of 1 to 4 hours pay if the schedule changes with less than seven days’ notice.
If an employee is “on call,” the employer must pay them for two to four hours of work if they aren’t called into the office. Employers are required to offer extra hours to part-time employees before hiring new staff.
Working Washington hopes that a Seattle ordinance will require two weeks advance posting of schedules, a minimum 11-hour gap between shifts and that employers give existing employees first dibs on hours before hiring new workers, said Sage Wilson, a spokesperson for the organization.
The committee will discuss the topic again March 22, after a series of focus groups and stakeholder meetings on the topic.