Members of Congress, states, municipalities and unions are reacting forcefully to complaints from many part-time workers that their work schedules have become too unpredictable and erratic to allow for time to take care of other important matters, such as child care or attending college classes, according to a front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times by reporter Steven Greenhouse.
As Greenhouse documents in his story, employers that make heavy use of part-time workers — such as retail and restaurant chains — are increasingly relying on “on-call” scheduling of their part-timers, with the aim of ensuring that hours worked are more closely tailored to peak customer traffic, which is not always predictable. This can result, as the story documents, in situations like that experienced by Mary Coleman, an employee of the Popeyes fast-food chain in Milwaukee, who — after taking an hour long bus commute — arrived at her job one day only to be told by her boss to go home without clocking in, even though she was scheduled to work that day.
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation this summer that would require organizations to pay their employees for an extra hour if they were notified they had to work with less than 24 hours’ notice. He also wants to guarantee that workers receive four hours’ worth of pay if they’re sent home after only a few hours on shift because of low customer traffic at the establishment at which they’re employed.
Here’s what Miller (who serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce) told Greenhouse:
It’s becoming more and more common to put employees in a very uncertain and tenuous position with respect to their schedules, and that ricochets if workers have families or other commitments. The employer community always says it abhors uncertainty and unpredictability, but they are creating an employment situation that has huge uncertainty and unpredictability for millions of Americans.”
The story notes that Vermont and San Francisco have laws that give workers the right to request flexible or predictable schedules to make it easier to take care of children or aging parents and that New York City is considering similar legislation. Unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers and other organizations are promoting the “Fair Workweek Initiative,” which is encouraging the passage of legislation in cities across the nation that would discourage employers from using “just-in-time” scheduling.
Don’t expect this issue to disappear anytime soon. As Susan J. Lambert, a University of Chicago professor, told Greenhouse: “The issue of scheduling is going to be the next big effort on improving labor standards. To reduce unpredictability is important to keep women engaged in the labor force.”