Public Comment

Predictive Work Scheduling Law Is a Must

Harry Brill
Friday August 31, 2018 - 07:13:00 PM

Among the serious problems that working people confront particularly in the retail industries, which include food service establishments, is that their work schedules are subject to change with very short notice. This is problematic for women with children. It poses major hurdles for those who want to advance themselves by attending school or just taking courses they would enjoy.

Also, many workers in the retail industries who work part time need another part time job as well. Without steady and predictable hours, schedule changes make that impossible. For workers generally it makes planning difficult and even at times impossible. Most employees do not complain to avoid the risk of losing their jobs.

Unfortunately, these workers are treated as things that employers can manipulate rather than as real people. There should be a federal law as there is in other countries to protect working people against this abuse. Instead it is up to the states and cities to enact predictive scheduling laws. But very few communities have done so.

Two bay area cities, San Francisco and Emeryville, have each enacted a predictive scheduling law. San Francisco was the first city to enact a scheduling law (2014). The law applies to retail and chain restaurants, which are required to provide two weeks' notice of work schedules. If schedules change in less than seven days employers are subjected to a small penalty. However, there are no heavy fines. Moreover, most workers are not protected. The ordinance covers only those retail establishments that have at least 40 locations worldwide and 20 or more employees in San Francisco. As a result, only a small minority of workers benefit from the law. 

The Emeryville restrictive scheduling law, which was also enacted in 2014, is more inclusive, but not inclusive enough. The law, which requires employers to post schedules 14 days ahead, protects relatively few employees. The reason is that the law only applies to retail and food service company with at least a total of 56 or more employees.  

New York City, on the other hand, enacted in November last year a law that looks good on paper. Employer violations can carry a very heavy fine. It may be too early to tell whether the legislation is being rigorously enforced. If it is, the New York City law can serve as a model for other communities as well as states. 

Workers in Berkeley certainly need a predictive scheduling law. Berkeley's Labor Commission, whose members are appointed by the Berkeley City Council, is considering creating a bill that would be forwarded to the Council. Although it seems that most if not all its members favor protecting workers, the Labor Commission should move at a faster tempo. 

Of course, the Council itself could propose and pass a good scheduling law. But no member of the Council has so far attempted to. I would like, then, to urge the many progressive organizations and individuals to contact and pressure the Council to demand action on this very vital issue.