With much of the country still suffering the effects of the last recession, many hourly workers are trying to scrape by with part-time jobs that don’t give them as many hours as they’d like. Worse, their schedules are often unpredictable, with little advance notice — and workers may scramble to coordinate childcare and transportation, only to arrive at their jobs and learn their shifts have been canceled.
Businesses may lower their costs by rearranging schedules at the last minute or sending workers home in response to fluctuating numbers of customers, but they do so at the expense of workers’ ability to earn livable incomes, care for their families, and pursue education and other goals. (Such short-term cost-cutting measures may compromise companies’ long-term profitability, but that’s a subject for another post.)
San Francisco and Vermont laws that took effect earlier this year begin to address scheduling’s impacts on workers’ lives. In San Francisco, the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance give workers with personal caregiving obligations the right to request changes to their working conditions (both flexibility and predictability) and requires employers to consider these requests. In Vermont, all employees have the right to request a flexible working arrangement, and employers must discuss the requests in good faith.
Last week, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Schedules that Work Act to give hourly workers more flexibility and predictability. The Act would allow all workers at businesses with 15 or more employees the right to request flexible, predictable, or stable schedules, and employers must engage in a timely, interactive process with employees to address their requests. When workers fall into four specific categories – those with caregiving obligations, second jobs, serious health conditions, or enrollment in educational or job-training programs – employers can refuse their requests only if they have a bona fide business reason to do so.
The Schedules that Work Act also contains provisions applying to the retail, food preparation and service, and building cleaning industries. These employers must provide employees with their schedules at least two week in advance. When they change shift schedules without giving workers at least 24 hours of notice, and for reasons other than unexpected unavailability of scheduled employees (e.g., when an employee scheduled to work calls in sick), they must pay each affected worker for an extra hour of work. If employers send workers home before their scheduled shifts end, they must pay the employees for at least four hours of work (or for the entire shift if it was scheduled for fewer than four hours). For more details, see the bill text or this fact sheet from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Representative Rosa DeLauro noted that women are disproportionately affected by erratic work schedules:
“Low-wage workers in America are too often being jerked around,” said Rep. DeLauro, co-chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. “These women—and they are usually women—cannot plan ahead, or make arrangements to see that theirs kids and family are being taken care of. This bill would protect low-wage workers from abuse and help ensure they can look after their families. Congress needs to ensure that people putting in a hard day’s work get a fair day’s pay and the ability to care for their loved ones.”
Unpredictable work schedules are problematic not only for workers with caregiving responsibilities, but for those with second (or third) jobs and those who are working toward college degrees. In a new fact sheet from CLASP, Liz Ben-Ishai describes some of the scheduling challenges working students face:
- Many working students receive very little advance notice of their job schedules: An analysis by Susan Lambert and colleagues at the University of Chicago of the 2012 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that nearly one-third of employed post-secondary students between ages 26 and 32 received one week or less advanced notice of their schedules.
- Students have little input into their schedules: More than one-third of working post-secondary students between ages 26 and 32 said they have no input into their schedules, which are determined solely by their employers.
- Working students experience a high degree of fluctuation in their work hours: Among employed post-secondary students between ages 26 and 32, 71 percent experienced instability in their weekly work hours. That is, the number of hours they were scheduled to work varied in the past month. Those who experienced instability saw their hours fluctuate by 63 percent on average.
We hear a lot of talk about family values in the US. It is indeed inspiring to see parents working hard – whether in extra shifts or in night school – so their children enjoy better opportunities than they had. Work should be an avenue for fulfilling such goals, not an obstacle.