You’ve heard the battle cries over paying workers a “living wage.” Now, get ready for the next phase: “Livable schedules.”
On the heels of Seattle passing a controversial $15 minimum wage law, the City Council there is now drafting an ordinance that aims to shift power away from employers when it comes to how workers are scheduled and paid.
“I think there is a sense among some workers that they are being abused,” Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is leading the effort to impose new rules on how employers schedule their workers. The ordinance is still being written, but it is expected to include:
- A guarantee that workers get at least 11 hours of down time between shifts
- A requirement that workers get schedules a week in advance, or else be paid time-and-a-half if shifts are added inside that timeframe
- A requirement that employers pay employees for a few hours of work not performed if shifts are taken away
Several of these components are being pushed by Working Washington, the same group that successfully fought for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle.
Already, though, members of the business community are firing back against what they call the “restrictive scheduling” measures.
“It’s unfortunate that the city of Seattle seems hell-bent on these one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approaches to wages and hour issues,” said Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Business. “I think this is going to be one more straw that may soon break the camel’s back.”
The push to mandate at least 11 hours of downtime aims to end the practice of “clopenings,” when employees are asked to work until closing time, then open the shop the next morning. Seattle’s own Starbucks has been accused of relying on “clopenings,” especially when workers call in and say they can’t cover their shift.
Starbucks issued a statement which reads in part, “Ensuring that we can balance predictability with flexibility in scheduling is an industry wide challenge we have been addressing with our partners (employees) directly.”
The “predictive scheduling” movement got a boost recently when several high-profile companies bowed to pressure from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Among the name brands that have ended on-call shifts are J. Crew, Gap and Victoria’s Secret. Schneiderman issued large retailers a warning letter saying on-call shifts may violate New York state law.
Seattle venture capitalist and billionaire Nick Hanauer supports the effort.
“Most workers in our economy have very little leverage or bargaining power,” said Hanauer, “and owners and people like me have enormous amounts of power.”
But some economists and public policy experts warn that shifting more risk onto employers has a serious downside. Jacob Vigdor, a professor at The University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy, has been studying the effects of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law and sees similarities for businesses in livable schedules.
“It makes it more expensive for them to get business done unless they find a way to get business done using fewer employees overall,” Vigdor said.
Despite the threat of unintended consequences, the Seattle City Council is expected to pass a livable schedules ordinance later this year.