CBS News: What the holidays are telling us about the future of work

Originally published 11/29/2017 5:00 AM

In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, shoppers hoping to bring their children to the mall for a traditional sit-down with Santa are out of luck this year. 

Faced with a steady decrease in customers and an aging building, the city's Memorial Mall closed down recently, taking its mall Santa with it. One Yelp reviewer called it "the saddest mall I have ever seen," noting that it looked like "a scene out of a horror or dystopian film." 

Less than two hours away from Sheboygan, another type of retailer is thriving in Wisconsin: Amazon.com (AMZN). The online retailing giant opened its Kenosha warehouse in 2015, employing 1,500 full-time workers in a modern plant. This summer, Amazon hosted a job fair at the Wisconsin warehouse as part of an effort to hire 50,000 people for packing and shipping jobs -- in one day. 

While less than 100 miles apart, the mall and Amazon's warehouse illustrate the flip sides of one of America's biggest industries -- retail. Profound changes to the sector are raising questions, and stirring anxiety, as some stores shutter locations and others hire, spurred largely by Americans' embrace of e-commerce. Almost 16 million Americans -- or one of 10 in the labor force -- work in retail, eclipsing employment in manufacturing, education and construction. 

Holiday retail sales so far this year demonstrate why Americans are increasingly skipping the mall and shopping online instead. "Cyber Monday" this week was America's largest-ever online shopping day, with about $6.6 billion in spending. By comparison, Black Friday shoppers, including those who visited brick-and-mortar stores spent about $5 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. 

The retail industry has been in flux for decades, of course, with giants like Walmart (WMT) and other big-box stores long ago changing the commercial face of cities and towns across the US. But the process has been especially visible of late, with more than a dozen retailers declaring bankruptcy this year, including Toys "R" Us and The Limited. 

Yet while those high-profile collapses have prompted talk of a "retail apocalypse" and fears of massive job losses, some experts think predictions of retail's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

"In fact, total retail employment -- having fallen in the 2008-9 recession -- has bounced back to recently hit a new high," said Dan Wang, an analyst at Gavekal Research, in a research note, noting the surge in hiring spurred by e-commerce. Warehousing and fulfillment jobs have increased by about 85 percent to 1 million positions since 2000, according to his report. Couriering jobs have grown by about 15 percent, while non-store retailers now employ about 600,000 people, up from 500,000 in 2000. 

"There is an often stated view that the shift to online retailing is creating low-wage drone work in fulfillment centers or badly paying 'gig' jobs to the determent of 'real' positions, which are being lost," Wang wrote. But that picture is incorrect, he added.

For one, traditional retail jobs are notorious for low pay and meager benefits. Only about 8 percent of retail workers have what would be considered a "good" job, or one that pays at least $15 an hour and includes benefits such as health care, paid leave and full-time hours, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 retail workers by the Fair Workweek Initiative, a left-leaning advocacy group. 

Those warehouse jobs might not pay $15 an hour either, but they tend to have higher wages than that earned by most retail workers. That's likely due to the fact that technology is boosting the productivity of warehouse workers, allowing wages to grow faster than traditional workers like cashiers or stockers. Online retail workers' productivity rose about 60 percent since 2007, compared with a 25 percent rise in the retail sector as a whole, he added. 

Workers at Amazon warehouses report higher pay than the typical Walmart store associate earns, according to Indeed.com. The typical sales associate at Walmart -- the largest private employer in the U.S. -- earns $9.36 an hour, according to more than 8,700 salary reports on the employment site. By comparison, the typical warehouse worker at Amazon earns about one-third more per hour, with an average hourly wage of $12.31, according to more than 9,300 pay reports at Indeed.com. 

"The next decade will see plenty of famous retail names disappear. Others will adjust to the new environment, as Walmart's latest results suggest it is doing," Wang predicted. "That process will be disruptive, but there is no evidence that it is economically debilitating for both customers and for employees and therefore no bad thing for the economy more broadly." 

The New York Times: Retail Jobs Don’t Need to Be Bad. Here’s Proof.

Originally published on 11/28/2017

Bethamy Magrow is grateful that the minimum wage in New York City is rising to $13 at the end of next month. Earning the current minimum of $11 an hour at a Times Square fashion retailer and scheduled to work some weeks for only 19 hours, the 25-year-old sales worker realizes she doesn’t quite clear New York’s poverty line.

It would be nice if her schedule didn’t change so much from week to week, she told me, so she could set up her doctors’ appointments in advance. But at least New York bars retailers from changing the schedule from one day to the next. In any case, jobs she has had at Whole Foods and Pokéworks, a restaurant on Union Square, were no better or worse.

Millions of Americans have similar stories to tell. For all the talk about the “end of retail,” it is one of the largest employers in the country, accounting for about one in eight workers in the private sector. For every miner toiling in the United States, there are almost 25 retail workers. Manufacturing, the apple of President Trump’s eye, doesn’t employ nearly as many.

Typically paying full-time employees less than $33,000 a year, well below the midpoint across the economy, retail jobs have become the work of the lower class, the main source of support for Americans left behind by economic change.

This raises a fairly urgent question: If retail work sets the living standard for so many low-income families, why doesn’t it get more attention?

A survey of 1,100 retail workers published this month by the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal-leaning advocacy group, found that only one in about 12 front-line retail workers were in jobs considered of high quality — meaning that they were employed full time, were paid at least $15 an hour and were offered health insurance and at least one form of paid leave. One in three had not gotten a raise in the last two years. Almost half had received some form of government assistance in the previous year.

Perhaps policymakers believe that undesirable sales jobs are inevitable features of the economic landscape; that the lot of poorly paid cashiers results from powerful market forces like automation and globalization over which they have little control. The truth is that retail work doesn’t have to be so unpleasant. A quick look around Europe underscores that retailers can profit, even thrive, and still provide their workers a better deal.

This is the proposition of “Where Bad Jobs Are Better,” a study published last month by the Russell Sage Foundation. The authors — the labor experts Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Chris Tilly of the University of California, Los Angeles — explored the wages and working conditions of retail workers in Germany, Britain and other industrialized nations.

They concluded that for all the power of market forces, from automation taking over routine tasks to globalization squeezing retailers’ margins, there is nothing inevitable about low-quality retail jobs. Social norms and political institutions can make them better, or worse.

In the United States, 42 percent of retail workers earn a low hourly wage — defined as less than two-thirds of the median wage across the economy. In Denmark, only 23 percent of retail workers earn so little; in France, only 18 percent. And labor turnover in the American retail industry is twice as high as it is in Britain and the Netherlands.

European retailers employ part-time workers more often. But full-time workers in the United States sometimes fare no better: Retailers will cut their hours to avoid paying overtime. What’s more, American retailers face few barriers to altering schedules to fit consumer demand, forcing employees to be available at any time even if they work few hours.

What accounts for these differences? The high minimum wage in France — set at 68 percent of the median wage — is a critical tool preventing low pay among retail workers. Cashiers, near the bottom rung on the wage ladder, made more than $2 more per hour at big food retailers in France like Carrefour than at similar American retailers like Walmart.

Unions, of course, play a major role. Fewer than 5 percent of retail workers in the United States are represented by a union. In Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Germany, by contrast, multi-employer union agreements determine wages and working conditions across regions in the entire sector. Notably, retailers in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have to negotiate scheduling with unions and often must post schedules weeks in advance.

Other institutions matter. In the United States, part-time retail workers earn two-thirds of the hourly wage of full-timers. In the European Union, they must be paid the same. Premium pay for late-night and weekend shifts in Europe also improve pay. Universal child care — common in countries like France — also affects the labor supply, freeing mothers to seek full-time work. Germany’s apprenticeship system provides retailers with workers who have more skills and can take on a greater variety of tasks.

These things tend to come together. When I asked what change would most improve the lives of retail workers in the United States, Professor Carré said the minimum wage, mandated or subsidized health care and mandated sick days made a big difference. Still, she argued, “you don’t get those things without a strong labor movement.”

This is not to say that retail jobs are great in France or the Netherlands. Indeed, Professors Carré and Tilly find that these jobs are gradually getting worse everywhere, as European retailers seek workarounds to avoid labor regulations. But while wages and working conditions have steadily deteriorated in the United States, the decline in Europe hasn’t been as general.

“New regulatory initiatives, such as high minimum wages, have partially reversed trends toward falling compensation,” the researchers wrote.

And what is critical is that European retailers can afford this: the researchers found that large food stores in France sell about twice as much per hour as American stores. Value added per employee is about 12 percent higher. And French stores sell about three times as much per square foot, not least because of tight zoning regulations that limit their size.

This is not to say that European culture is somehow more labor-friendly. Professors Carré and Tilly observe that when European retailers come to the United States, they tend to adopt American norms.

Europe’s choices do entail costs. Notably, American consumers benefit from the more intense competition among retailers in the United States. In areas with weak zoning regulations, where Walmart can easily enter and undercut other retailers’ prices, this is particularly true. In France, where barriers to entry are high, competition is weaker and retailers are more profitable. They can afford to give workers a better deal.

Still, it is important to understand that this is a choice. There is nothing inevitable about dead-end jobs. As the United States struggles with stagnating wages and widening inequality, giving bottom-end workers a better deal might not be a bad choice — and $13 an hour is one place to start.

Axios: Black Friday Future of Retail Feature Stream

Originally published 11/24/2017

2017 has been retail's year of reckoning. For decades, brick-and-mortar retailers have taken on too much debt, built too many stores, and failed to understand the potential or practicalities of e-commerce. The price of these missteps have been steep: More than 6,000 stores have closed so far in 2017, the most of any year on record, and there are 65,000 fewer retail jobs in America than in January of this year.

On the other side of those stats is Amazon, which is taking an ever-growing slice of a rapidly expanding e-commerce pie, along with its army of third-party sellers. The Amazon revolution is one symptom of the growing dominance of mega tech firms that are changing the way America works and shops.

Metro Philadelphia: Black Friday means extra headaches for low-wage workers

Originally published 11/24/2017

Despite the internet, the infamous post-Thanksgiving consumerist holiday of Black Friday is still one of the biggest revenue days for major stores.

But the low-wage retail employees who staff the nation's biggest box stores aren't seeing any of that pie.

For Madison Nardy, 20, a beauty team worker at Target in South Philly who is scheduled to work from 5:30 pm to midnight on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, the hours aren't just a toll on her: They detract from her being able to do her job well.

"Of course," Nardy said when asked if she had to work Black Friday. "I'm definitely cranky, I'm definitely exhausted and tired, and it does reflect on my work ability. … Because I'm constantly tired, I'm not motivated to help people or talk to people, even though that's what I love to do."

Nardy is earning $11.50 an hour as a part-time Target employee, while studying theater full-time at the Community College of Philadelphia. After a year and a half, she still mostly works night shifts, she said, which are hard because she has safety concerns taking public transit home at night and often has class early the next morning.

"Target was my first job, so I kind of entered with an open mind," the South Philly born-and-raised resident told Metro. "At first I figured this is just how retail is, you just have to live with it, but as the months went on, I realized nobody should have to live like this, nobody should have to work 'til midnight every night."

Nardy is now working with OnePA, a nonprofit advocating for low-income workers, to raise awareness about the issues retail workers face. Out of some 120,000-130,000 retail workers in Philadelphia, more than 60 percent are women and 25 percent are part-time.

"A number of Philly retail workers have begun to work together to raise awareness and build solidarity around the unfair, insufficient and erratic scheduling they face across the city," OnePA said in a statement. "All year long, low-paid retail workers are subject to irregular and insufficient hours, and Black Friday represents the height of unfair scheduling."

David Delgado, 20, a part-time sales associate for a year at Old Navy in Center City, born and raised in North Philadelphia, earns around $11 an hour, a little above minimum wage. He said seasonal workers hired during the holiday rush get extra hours, instead of more senior employees.

"They'd rather give it to a seasonal worker because they can work them out more and don't have to pay them the same amount of money," he said. "We're like cats and dogs, like we're not even humans. … When it comes to holidays like Black Friday, like Christmas, it gets worse, it's like slavery."

Target's and Old Navy's corporate offices did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

USA Today: This Holiday Season, Let's Talk About Retail Workers Instead of Coal Miners

Originally published on 11/24/2017 3:15 AM

The people selling and wrapping your gifts are a huge segment of the economy. But very few of these jobs offer a pathway to the middle class.

Far more than the miners or factory workers that President Trump regularly touts, the retail salesperson is the face of today’s economy. Nearly 16 million people work in retail in America, more than 300 times as many as the 52,000 in coal mining. They are the people wrapping gifts, stocking shelves and providing advice on what to buy this holiday season for your friends and family.

Yet the retail industry is also a precarious place to work and has only become more so over the past year. Since last October, retail has lost more than 100,000 jobs, as online retailing and Wall Street turned up the pressure on the industry. Iconic retailers like Toys R’ Us, for example, have buckled from the weight of leveraged debt demanded of them by private equity firms. Brick-and-mortar stores have moved online.

More: GOP tax plan: If we're busting the budget, let's spend on real needs

More: Inequality crisis: Blacks and Latinos on the road to zero wealth

Even as the retail industry changes, though, it will continue to be one of the biggest employers in America. Despite rumors of the “retail apocalypse,” in 2017 more stores opened than closed. And retail still employs more than one in 10 American workers.

We have the chance to help retail workers weather the storm and make these jobs better — the kind of stable, sustainable jobs that families can count on.

Some employers are already making moves in this direction. Walmart, for example, has invested $100 million in job training. In September, Target announced it would raise wages to $15 by 2020.

Yet to gauge if we’re making progress, we need to hear from retail workers themselves. A new Fair Workweek Initiative survey does just that, looking at the experiences of nearly 1,100 retail workers across the industry — from big box stores like Target to clothing retailers like Victoria’s Secret and the Gap.

The survey reveals that very few people employed in retail get what Americans expect for a hard day’s work, let alone a real pathway to the middle class. Only 8% of front-line retail workers, for example, had what could be called a “good job” that paid at least $15 an hour, with full-time hours, health insurance, and paid time off.

Even more alarming was the lack of mobility. One in three workers hadn’t received a raise in the last two years. Only 18% of those who had changed positions moved up to a managerial role. A major reason for the stagnation was employers’ reliance on part-time hours and variable schedules. Nearly half of front-line workers like sales associates and cashiers worked part-time with hours that fluctuated wildly, from as few as 13 hours to as many as 29 from week to week.

And their willingness to work those erratic hours was the key to getting promoted. More than half of those surveyed cited “open availability” as the leading factor in a promotion, far more important than education or a positive performance review.

That demand to work 24/7 means retail workers have to run an obstacle course to get ahead. Nearly half took care of kids and other family members, and one in five had a second job. Given that women are still primary caregivers, it’s no surprise this juggling act perpetuated the gender gap in retail, where women are just a fraction of managers. About 70% of women reported that the stress of their job took a toll on their health, while nearly the same percentage of men reported no health issues at all.

Although employers will tell you that training for new skills lets workers advance, the survey revealed that, as a way to get ahead, workers themselves ranked it about equal to availability. Training works (59% who received it moved to a better position) but just not for enough people.

More: GOP tax 'reform' worse than partisan. It's petty.

POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media

The good news is that we are making gains. A wave of cities and states has raised the minimum wage and guaranteed earned sick time, and most recently, a fair work week. Over the past few years, a movement led by working people has won more predictable, stable hours for people in the service economy, including in Seattle, New York City, and Oregon. And after state attorneys general launched inquiries into the widespread use of on-call scheduling in retail, more than 13 brands stopped the practice.

Now more than ever, people working in retail need a greater voice in the industry. Ensuring more stability for those working in retail can help millions navigate this moment of disruption, but also ensure that the retail job of the future is one that supports a family. This holiday season, let’s push for solutions that make retail an industry where working people prosper.

Carrie Gleason is Director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy. Follow her on Twitter: @GleasonCarrie

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

NBC News (Op-Ed - Michelle Chen): Why Black Friday still leaves too many workers with little to be thankful for

Originally published 11/24/2017 4:24 AM

Thanksgiving should mark the start of a festive season, but the millions working this weekend have precious little to celebrate. For many of the working-poor, the big feast isn’t the turkey dinner at home, but the feeding frenzy of the Black Friday sales floor at dawn — a day replete with shopping revelry for consumers but, for workers, one more slog in another workweek without respite from everyday hardship.

This year, however, the holidays might treat some workers slightly more kindly: A 2016 Bloomberg BNA workplace survey found that about 80 percent of workers were granted two paid days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, up from 70 percent the three years prior. It's a tepid improvement, but it could signal that, after decade of boom-bust economic cycles, both our consumption patterns and workplace practices might finally be starting to cool down.

Still, many workers won't have anything close to a leisurely holiday season: Low-wage laborers in stores and restaurants are most likely to be serving you on your day off. In contrast to typical white-collar and manufacturing workers, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, roughly half of workers in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are working on Thanksgiving.

Big Box retail’s wide bottom rung — the lowest-paying, least stable retail jobs like cashiers and sales — intersects with other social gaps: Black and Latino workers and women are concentrated in marginal part-time positions, typically with fewer promotional opportunities. And although women workers are driving growth in low-wage retail jobs today, they're uniquely vulnerable on the job, exposed not just to economic insecurity, but also to everyday gender bias and, sometimes, outright abuse.

Activists have, for instance, denounced Walmart over complaints of systemic labor violations going back years, including allegations of discriminatory pay scales for womensexual harassment, and the denial of basic rights like taking time off for pregnancy or childbirthWorkers are punished when they protest.

Workers in large businesses with 1,000 or more employees — like Walmart — are also four times more likely than small businesses to make some workers work on Thanksgiving. But those workers staffing your local Big Box this weekend might not be on duty as part of a regular full-time schedule; they may instead have picked up an extra holiday shift to cover this month’s bills. Often, low-wage employees rely on added peak-season shifts because the rest of the year is filled with low-paying irregular gigs or part-time shifts. This leaves many workers scrambling at year’s end to cobble together enough work hours to make rent, stave off debt and if they’re blessed, have a little extra to splurge on their kids’ gifts.

So if you find yourself queueing in the Walmart parking lot on Friday morning, mind the store associates corralling the teeming mobs; this holiday season might be an especially tough slog for them, since the company recently “streamlined” its store operations by rolling back its extra holiday pay policy.

The megachain has also moved to cut back staff and closing stores nationwide in order to stay “competitive” in a retail market increasingly dominated by online outlets. But labor advocates warn that slashing labor costs might deprive thousands of workers’ a modest year-end boost and force them to stretch already-meager paychecks, or to take on additional shifts — a good deal for Walmart’s low-price empire at the expense of workers’ households.

Sadly, the low-wage, high-stress labor structure has become standard across today’s retail and service workforces. At many businesses, the 40-hour week simply doesn’t exist any more: Staffers work on “on call” hours, or pick up part-time temp jobs with no benefits (not even weekends off). Just one in five low-wage workers get paid vacation time, and just 15 percent of the lowest-paid workers can take paid sick days; so a holiday­ — or just a day to nurse a child at home with the flu — means a day without pay.

About one-sixth of workers are stuck on unstable shift schedules, so their boss controls their work hours and could change workers’ shifts with just a few days notice. The mix of erratic work hours and poverty wages wreaks havoc on working families: Labor researchershave linked schedule volatility to constant income instability, hindering workers from maintaining mortgage payments, saving for college, or covering childcare fees — and forget about stocking stuffers.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has moved to kill an Obama-era rule to raise overtime pay for millions of workers, promising an even rougher holiday season next year.

And, recent structural shifts in the low-wage economy could soon push the poorest workers out of work altogether. Though the low-wage chainstore model has expanded aggressively across the country in recent years, now superstores are consolidating as brick-and-mortar outlets lose market share to digital retailers. The communities where Walmart has taken over the local economy and crowded out mom-and-pop shops over the years might soon lose their main source of jobs as megastores shutter and lay off workers.

Any slight uptick in the rate of workers getting a break this Thanksgiving hardly offsets the day-to-day drudgery of low-wage work. But one ray of hope is that a change in seasonal workplace practices may reflect a political climate shift, spurred by rising grassroots campaigns for fair wages and decent workplaces.

The Fight for $15 campaign for a living wage and union rights has mobilized waves of workers nationwide in fast food restaurants, retail and other precarious sectors. The momentum has spun off into campaigns demanding more comprehensive labor reforms to make work schedules more equitable. Fair workweek legislation has emerged in various communities, starting with San Francisco’s pioneering Retail Bill of Rights, which provides for fairer pay scales and paid sick days, while giving part-time workers priority in hiring for full-time positions and mandating advanced notice of scheduling changes. New York and Seattle are on trend with similar fair workweek policies for service workers.

These changes are good for business, too; Advocates point out that offering staff steady, less punishing schedules and decent wages can curb turnover rates and boost workforce productivity.

Economic forecasters have predicted the “death of retail,” noting the mass closures of megamalls and Big Box chains. But perhaps it's actually only the death of a certain kind of retail; maybe it’s just the implosion of the precarious jobs that feed into a system of dead-end, low-end labor. The retail jobs that will survive might just be those that strike a sustainable balance between quality service and quality jobs.

This is the season of thankless work for many of us, but it’s also a time for resolutions: Worker-led movements are hustling to transform the low-wage economy into an economy that supports families and communities together. That would make the holidays a more generous time for all.

Michelle Chen is a contributing writer at The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the “Belabored” podcast and Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI FM. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

LA Times (Op-Ed - Steve Greenhouse): Black Friday retail workers are treated like yo-yos. They need scheduling protections

Originally published 11/24/2017 3:00 AM

hen you go shopping this holiday season, you’ll no doubt come across smiling cashiers and perky sales clerks. But behind the holiday cheer, many retail workers have very un-merry tales to tell about the craziness of their work schedules.

I’ve heard many tales of woe over the last five years — of unpredictable, ever-changing, stress-inducing work schedules — as I’ve researched labor conditions in retail and elsewhere in the service sector. Whether at big-box stores, department stores or specialty stores, many workers complain that their managers have ramped up the scheduling chaos as retail competition has grown ever fiercer, partly because Amazon is eroding the sales of brick-and-mortar retail.

A man who worked at a Zara in Manhattan when I interviewed him in 2015, Brandon Wagner, sometimes had to work until 11 p.m., getting home around midnight, and then be back at the store at 8 next morning. That meant he’d get just five or six hours of sleep.

Mirella Casares, a Victoria’s Secret worker in Florida, told the New York Times earlier this year that her weekly hours swung wildly, from a low of 15 hours a week to a high of 39, making it hard to plan her life or her budget. Frequent last-minute scheduling changes made it difficult to find care for her 2-year-old and 6-year-old.

An aspiring actor, Desmond Anthony, told me that the Express in Manhattan where he used to work would often schedule him for two days of work, plus two or three on-call days. That meant he had to call his boss first thing in the morning and be ready to rush in if the store needed him. If he wasn’t needed, he went unpaid, even though his on-call status made it impossible for him to schedule auditions or make other plans.

The stories pile up. One Milwaukee worker, Mary Coleman, said she once made the hour-long bus commute to her job at a Popeye’s only to be told that she shouldn’t clock in. Business was slow and they didn’t need her that day, her boss said. (She wasn’t paid.) Another retail worker told me she didn’t learn her work schedule for the next week until Saturday, two days before her workweek began. A Wal-Mart worker in Orlando, Fla., said she was inexplicably assigned zero hours one week, sandwiched between 20-hour and 25-hour weeks.

Much of this herky-jerky scheduling grows out of new money-saving management practices. Thanks to advances in software, many stores and restaurants now monitor their sales minute by minute, hewing to a strict employees-to-sales ratio. When sales jump or dip, a store might suddenly call in unscheduled workers or tell scheduled workers to go home.

Although this helps businesses hold down costs and serve customers better, it creates havoc for many workers. A 2014 study led by Susan Lambert, a professor of organizational theory at the University of Chicago, found that 41% of early-career workers received one week or less advance notice of their work schedule. This unpredictability makes it difficult to schedule child care or doctor’s appointments or to juggle college classes while holding a job.

UCLA researchers recently surveyed 800 retail employees in the L.A. area and found that ever-varying work hours create chaos in many workers’ lives, problems compounded by the city’s size and transportation woes. Some workers complained to the researchers, who are finalizing their study, that they could barely make ends meet because of their part-time hours and because their unpredictable schedules made it difficult to hold a second job.

Just as low wages in the fast-food industry spawned the Fight for 15, the volatility of retail schedules has given birth to the Fair Workweek movement. This fast-growing initiative has persuaded city councils in Emeryville, Calif.; San Francisco; New York and Seattle as well as Oregon’s state Legislature to adopt laws that bring more predictability — and sanity — to scheduling. Fair Workweek may target L.A. next year.

These laws have various wrinkles. They generally apply to retail and restaurant workers and require two weeks’ notice of work schedules. And they usually call for a good-faith estimate of weekly hours upon hiring, and give workers the right to decline to work when there is less than 10 or 11 hours between shifts.

All the laws require predictability pay — often one hour of pay for a scheduling change ordered by the employer, and four hours of pay for canceling shifts with less than 24 hours’ notice. (Such pay is not required if shifts change because of utility failures, severe weather, acts of God or the recommendation of civil authorities.)

Industry lobbyists have vigorously battled these laws, saying they would limit retailers’ flexibility, burden them with new mandates and needlessly raise costs. But the retailers have brought these laws upon themselves. They have made workers’ hours and pay — and lives — swing so wildly that many workers feel like yo-yos.

Fair workweek laws merely restore some much-needed balance and stability, in both hours and income, for the workers who serve us day after day.

Steven Greenhouse, a former labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times, is writing a book about the history and future of labor unions and worker advocacy in the United States.

NPR Marketplace: A tale of two Thanksgivings: one spent at work, one spent with family

Originally published on 11/23/2017 10:00 AM

Arnold Cortez would love to spend Thanksgiving with his family eating his favorite dishes — sweet potatoes and stuffing — as well as the various pies that his wife bakes every year. However, just like the years before, he will be spending the holiday at work, stocking shelves at Walmart throughout the evening of Thanksgiving. The only Thanksgiving meal he will get to enjoy that Thursday evening is the one that the company usually orders from a nearby Golden Corral.

“Every year we have to work Thanksgiving,” said Cortez. He has been working at the Grand Prairie, Texas store for fifteen years and is used to celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday or Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. His wife, Q, also works at the store as a stocker. She has four grown kids and thirteen grandchildren — all of whom attend the weekend celebration held at her ex-husband’s house. “If we didn’t work on Thanksgiving, we would be planning our own Thanksgiving dinner together and invite them over for once.”

For many retail workers, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner has been supplanted by Gray Thursday. In their attempts to attract more shoppers, over the past couple of years a number of stores decided to open their doors as early as 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving - stretching the Black Friday shopping holiday into Thursday. This year, Walmart will be open all day Thursday, with Black Friday deals starting at 6 p.m. Macy’s and Target will also be open on Thursday evening but will close for a few hours during the night before opening their doors again at 6 a.m on Friday.

About 32 million people are planning to do some shopping on Thanksgiving this year, according to a new survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Despite that, there are some stores that are bucking the trend. REI, the outdoor equipment retailers, is not opening its stores on Thursday or on Black Friday — one of the biggest U.S. shopping holidays. For the third year in a row, REI will give all of its 12,000 full-time and part-time employees a paid day off on Black Friday. The employees are encouraged to spend the day outside with their family and friends.

“One of the sayings you hear around REI all the time is a life outside is a life well lived,” said Alex Jarman, general manager of the REI store in New York. “So being closed the day after Thanksgiving really is a no brainer for us. Spending time with our family on Thanksgiving and then having a chance to do that again and get outside, go hiking, go to a park, or whatever it might be, just seems like a very authentic thing to do for us.”

In addition to closing its stores, REI also closes its online call centers and its website.

“We will take orders online but there's no one there to process them until Saturday,” explained Jarman.

More than 115 million people are planning to shop either in store or online or both on Black Friday this year, according to the NRF. But REI is not too worried about missing out on its share of the sales. Instead, the company hopes to use the holiday as a way to relax before the busy holiday season.

“We can all go out, relax and be really calm before we head into the holiday season that we know is going to be very strenuous and sometimes stressful. It gives us that chance to really catch our breath and get ready for the holidays,” said Jarman.

That’s exactly what Ace Hainley, a sales specialist at REI in West Des Moines, Iowa, plans to do. Hainley, 21, and her dad both work at the same REI and this will be their second year participating in the company’s #OptOutside campaign.

“Last Thanksgiving I actually went bike riding with my dad and we just kind of made a day of it,” said Hainley. “We brought some food along had a picnic in the park, biked along the amazing bike trails that we have here in Des Moines and spent some time with the family.”

They hope to repeat the experience this year. Getting Black Friday off is a welcomed change of pace for Hainley, who years prior worked at a mall coffee shop and had to work on Thanksgiving.

In fact, according to Jarman, having Thanksgiving and Black Friday off is one thing that attracts many potential job seekers to REI.

“Some of our employees actually have sought us out because they heard about opt outside,” he said. “Some of them have worked retail jobs where they actually had started to open on Thanksgiving. So it's really been a great thing for our employees.” 

 

RELATED

Why do stores open early after the holiday, anyway?

How do American feels about Black Friday?

 

Among the retail workers who wish they did not have to work on Thanksgiving is Margaret Karch Hooten, who works at a Walmart in California. If she didn’t have to work at Walmart on Thanksgiving, Karch Hooten would be spending it with her friend’s family. But instead of making her “killer” green bean casserole, Karch Hooten expects she will celebrate the holiday in the break room with her coworkers.

“Some of the nice ladies at our store cook Thanksgiving dinner for the employees so we will be having Thanksgiving dinner in our break room,” she said.

While she might be working Thanksgiving this year, that has not always been the case for Karch Hooten. Over the past few years, she spent her Black Friday shifts on strike, protesting outside the store hoping to draw attention to Walmart workers’ wages.

She hopes that with stores offering holiday sales online and in-store days and even weeks before Black Friday rolls around, people will be less drawn to Gray Thursday and Black Friday offers in the future. Yet, despite that, shoppers keep turning up.

“We started our sales at six o'clock last year on Thanksgiving Day and people were there because of the great deal that they put out and advertised,” she said. 

NPR: 'Just Time Together': For Some Workers, A Thanksgiving Off Is A Rare Treat

Originally published on 11/23/2017 5:05 AM

The way Brenda Bracey tells the story, it's just short of a miracle.

"Twenty-three years," she says. "This is the first Thanksgiving in 23 years that I have not worked at least an eight-hour shift."

For almost a quarter-century, Bracey has been working at grocery stores in the town of Largo, on Florida's west coast. She's done all different jobs, she says, her voice bubbly over the phone line.

"Right now I'm in the deli, because I'm at the bottom of the totem pole," she says with a laugh. She recently changed stores — from supermarket chain Winn-Dixie to another called Publix — and has to once again work her way up.

So there she was about a month ago, working at the deli, when somebody said something about Publix being closed on Thanksgiving.

"And I stopped what I was doing," Bracey says. "And I said, 'Wait a minute, we're not open on Thanksgiving?' " She says her coworkers gave her a puzzled look. Then it hit her: "I said, 'Oh my god! I'm off on Thanksgiving!' And they all started laughing and said, 'That's it, we're going to Brenda's house for Thanksgiving.' "

For Bracey and the millions of other Americans who work in retail — about one in ten U.S. workers — the Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the most intense stretch of the year.

"It's like going down the rabbit hole," says Louise Treadway, who works at a jewelry store in a Portland mall. "It's the beginning of a very challenging, and sometimes stressful, and sometimes exciting part of the year. That's the start of the season — not that they aren't already playing Christmas music at the mall!"

For many retailers, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day. In recent years some stores have begun stretching the deals into Thanksgiving and even earlier in the week. The Thanksgiving openings have been somewhat controversial — a September survey by BestBlackFriday.com is the latest to find that a majority of Americans view Thanksgiving store openings negatively.

Hundreds of stores and malls, including the Mall of America, have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving this year. For some smaller or specialty stores that don't offer door-buster sales, the math doesn't make Thanksgiving openings worth it. But many large retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy's are staying open.

"This is the first time I haven't actually celebrated Thanksgiving on the day itself," says Casey Hammond, who's working part time at an outdoor gear retailer in upstate New York.

Hammond is slated to work from 5 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, followed by another shift Friday morning. He says he appreciates that he gets extra pay for the work and still can celebrate on another day.

"I'm trying to be of that mindset," he says, "but it's still a little bit weird to me."

For grocery stores, Thanksgiving is the day of the big crowds, while Black Friday is for cleanup. So when I ask Bracey how she feels when she thinks about those two days, she lets out a sigh. You have to work faster and longer, she says.

"By the time the holiday gets here, you're just so tired, you don't care — 'we're eating cocoa-puffs,' " she says with a laugh. Thankfully, she gets Black Friday off this year as well.

Bracey's usual Thanksgiving routine has involved preparing dishes early and leaving sticky notes on them for her sons: "I go in the oven at 10:30."

But wouldn't it be nice to ... say that in person?

Bracey says she is grateful to have a job in the first place. "The good parts for me is I was able to support my family," she says. "You know, we're not rich, but it kept a roof over our home and food on the table."

But she's also realizing the cost of those 23 years of working on Thanksgiving: "I don't think I realized the significance of it, and I wish I could get that back. To me it wasn't a fair trade — not just for me but for the time that I had with those kids — for stupid things like going buying the food together. You know, just time together ... that we didn't have."

She pauses, then adds: "But we're going to have it this year." And then: "I'm gonna drive 'em crazy!" And she breaks into a laugh.

 

Philly Weekly: Black Friday blues: Philly retail workers speak out against inconsistent hours

Originally published 11/22/2017

For most of the year, David Delgado doesn’t get steady hours as a sales associate at Old Navy near Rittenhouse Square. The 20-year-old North Philly resident has to hold down another job as a temp security guard to scrape by, and overall, when he requests to be given at least 32 hours a week, his experience has been negative.

“They’ll badmouth you, they’ll ignore you, and when they do actually feel like giving you the hours, they’ll give you hell [for it],” Delgado says.

But come Thanksgiving Day, it’s expected that all hands are on deck. Old Navy is among a dozen or so retailers opening their doors in the mid- to late-afternoon to prepare for the Black Friday rush.

Some retail workers see incentives for working on days like Thanksgiving, like time and half pay. But despite being part of the holiday weekend, companies like Old Navy don’t consider Black Friday a holiday, Delgado says, and the hours are “crazy.” (A call to the apparel company went unreturned by press time.)

According to a report by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, about 17 percent of the nation’s labor force works under the strain of inconsistent scheduling, week in and week out. And the holiday season spells an even more stressful workload for part-time corporate employees like Delgado.

While local data for Philadelphia were not available, retail workers’ stories of this holiday time madness and exploitative labor practices are a dime a dozen. Wal-Mart, the single largest employer in Pennsylvania, has one of the least sterling reputations in this department. But employees interviewed by PW say that the fluctuating hours and unsteady paychecks are the biggest problem.

On Thanksgiving week, Delgado says he’ll get his 32 hours – at the expense of spending time with his family – but the week after that? He doesn’t know. This is his second season with the company, and he’s not optimistic.

Seasonal workers, which large retailers bring on in droves to help ease the holiday workload, make scheduling all the more unpredictable.

Madison Nardy, a full-time student at the Community College of Philadelphia who supports her disabled mother, works part-time at Target. The South Philadelphia native says the Mifflin Street branch near the waterfront has hired 50 new seasonal workers since September. Now, she says that she will have to fight for her guaranteed 20 hours per week.

“It’s ridiculous,” Nardy said. “They should give the current employees the hours we need before they hire seasonal.”

Nardy acknowledges that Target is one of the more well-reputed retailers. But there’s still work to be done to improve conditions.

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis-based big box store announced that it would close its doors for six hours on Black Friday.  In previous years, it has followed the sad all-nighter tradition between Thanksgiving and Black Friday. (Target has also topped numerous lists as the highest paying retailer in the country. The corporation recently agreed to implement a $15 minimum wage by 2020. But Nardy worries that the wage increase will bring more cuts in each employee’s hours.)

But Nardy says it’s still a grind. Some Target workers in Philly will finish a shift at midnight on Thanksgiving, commute home, and then return for the opening shift in a few hours. Like many companies, Target is also extending its daily hours until midnight through the end of December.

Nationwide, some 75 popular retail stores will be closed on Thanksgiving. A number of these stores — Best Buy, Cabela's, JCPenney, Target and Wal-Mart — will be open for at least part of the day.

TWITTER: @MAXMMARIN

A PHILLY ETYMOLOGY

The phrase “Black Friday,” originally used to describe a late-19th century gold market crash, was reappropriated by Philadelphia newspapers a century later to refer to the post-Thanksgiving retail rush. As early as 1959, according to archived news reports, Philly police officers began using the two-word phrase to describe the horrible traffic conditions around the once-booming retail outlets in Center City.

HOLIDAY HOURS?

Home Depot: Closed on Thanksgiving day; opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Lowe’s: Closed Thanksgiving day; opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Walmart: Opens 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and stays open through Black Friday.

Target: Opens 6 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving; reopens at 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday.

Best Buy: Opens at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 1 a.m. on Black Friday; reopens at 8:00 a.m.

Macy’s: Opens at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 2 a.m. on Black Friday, then reopens at 6:00 a.m.

GameStop: Opens at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving and stays open through Black Friday.

(Times are approximate and may vary by branch location. Source: Corporate websites.

Inequality.org: Understanding Retail’s Volatile Moment

Originally published on 11/22/2017 

When you do your holiday shopping this year, keep this in mind: the cashier ringing up your purchase likely worked part time at some point in their career. There’s a chance they’re borrowing money or using credit cards to pay their bills. Their income and schedules can be volatile. And it’s incredibly difficult for them to move up the career chain.

Thanks to the Fair Workweek Initiative, a project anchored at the Center for Popular Democracy, we now have a better picture of the lives of retail workers around the country. The group published their survey, Job Quality and Economic Opportunity in Retail, earlier this November.

Inequality.org spoke with Carrie Gleason, the director of the Fair Workweek Initiative, to talk more about the survey. “There’s this moment of disruption that’s happening right now in retail, and we wanted to get insights into where we are right now, and also understand how people are imagining the future,” Gleason told Inequality.org.

Gleason’s been organizing retail workers since 2005, and has seen a lot of trends unfold over the past decade. One of the biggest waves she noticed? The move towards a part-time workforce. “I saw this massive shift to a low road,” Gleason said. “I saw the chaos that unfolded in a lot of people’s lives who I was working very closely with.”

The survey confirmed that part-time workers are far more vulnerable to erratic incomes and hours, and see fewer opportunities for growth. But Gleason also noted that 60 percent of the full-time workers they interviewed had worked part-time jobs in the past — a statistic she found troubling.

“What we’ve seen in retail is that actually there’s a lower rung. And it starts now with a part-time job. And it’s not just, ok I’m going to work part time and work my way up to a full-time job. It’s like an obstacle course to get to a full-time job. So you have to be available all the time to really just get a few hours a week.” For workers with families, that means kids often have to adapt to ever-changing workweeks, which worries Gleason. “It’s super important to set up healthy, stable routines, but for people who are working in the retail economy, it’s impossible.”

READ THE FULL REPORT

Job Quality and Economic Opportunity in Retail

 

The survey also painted a picture of financial insecurity among workers. Nearly half of their survey respondents said they borrowed money from family and friends in the past year. Meanwhile, some companies are profiting off the financial instability of the retail workforce: 39 percent of retail workers say they use a credit card to pay off bills, 25 percent purchased a money order, and 12 percent used payday loans. “The financialization of the poverty of people working in retail is a huge industry,” Gleason says.

The survey makes it clear that the finance industry is playing an outsized role in the lives of retail workers. That parallels with the stake it holds in the industry as a whole. The backdrop to this study has been the often-mentioned “retail apocalypse.” This mantra has become a regular fixture in the news cycle: retail stores are closing. Online shopping has taken over. Millennials would rather buy experiences than things. But Gleason says the truth is more complicated.

“If we look at the reason for the most recent wave of store closings, I would argue that private equity has more to do with 100,000 people losing their jobs than Amazon,” Gleason says. “People lost their jobs because Wall Street got greedy and put too much debt on these companies.”

Recent reporting supports Gleason’s claim. Private equity firms have bought up retail companies and loaded them up with billions in debt in risky business schemes, as a recent Bloomberg feature shows. The biggest payers of the burden, they anticipate, will be the low-income workers employed by the chains. Meanwhile, the mismanagers of America’s retail crisis will likely come out ahead.

But despite the numbers, it takes work to change the narrative. “That story hasn’t been told, because it’s invisible,” Gleason says. You just see Toys ‘R’ Us closing. You don’t see the myriad of private equity firms that set them up to fail.”

But workers who bear the consequences know what’s happening. “I think there’s a ton of growing awareness about how things actually work. It’s not a shock to someone who works at Toys ‘R’ Us that bankers might be at fault for why they lost their job.”

Hopefully, that awareness will help compound some of the legislative successes that retail workers have won in recent years. Cities and states are passing a range of policies to improve working conditions in the retail industry, from higher minimum wages to paid sick leave. Gleason emphasized new regulations in several cities and states that require companies to provide transparent, reliable schedules, and to confront underemployment by offering more shifts to part-time workers before hiring new staff.  

“There’s been unbelievable momentum these last few years. For a labor standard that basically did not exist three years ago, we’ve seen six cities, the state of Oregon, and soon the state of New York pass new standards around work hours,” Gleason says.

Now, the Fair Workweek Initiative is looking to expand to a more integrated approach. “It’s no longer just a question about labor standards. We need to have guardrails on Wall Street, and we need guardrails around technology. The next round of store closings is not just going to just be private equity, it’ll be private equity joined by robots.”

One factor complicating that fight: some companies are also pushing back against the victories that organizing groups have already had at the ballot box. Businesses are already asking Congress to shield them from local paid leave laws. “There’s a battle right now where cities and states actually are stepping up and recognizing that all of their hard work — there are people in Congress right now are trying to take that away.”

But Gleason still sees opportunity in this political moment. “In this crisis there’s actually a lot of hope that people are getting more active and recognizing that we can’t take what we won for granted, but that also there’s a lot that we can do to protect people’s lives right now.”

US News & World Report (Op-Ed): Retail Is Alive and Well

Originally published 11/22/2017 9:00 AM

Declining job postings, increasing layoffs and vacant storefronts. By looking at the headlines that dominate recent coverage of the retail industry, the casual observer could easily buy in to the notion that retail is dying. Nevertheless, millions of consumers prepare to hit brick and mortar stores for another Black Friday to begin filling their holiday shopping lists. And millions more will follow suit online a few days later for Cyber Monday.

Speaking with managers on the ground reveals an entirely different picture than what headlines portray. It's not retail itself that is failing in the digital economy. Instead, it is the metrics by which we measure retail success that lag behind.

The National Retail Federation projects holiday sales figures for 2017 to increase to nearly $682 billion, which would mark a 4 percent rise over last year's record figures. But critics continue to point to other data points, namely the continued drop in seasonal positions. Seasonal hiring peaked in 2013, at 764,000 new jobs, but has dropped precipitously in the years since. This year, the federation predicts only 500,000-550,000 seasonal positions, down from 570,000 last year. The correlation drawn here is that fewer hires inherently means lower demand.

But not all jobs are created equal, and the positions created today are vastly different from those a decade ago. Retail jobs now aren't just cashiers, shelf stockers and warehouse workers. These are the visible positions that everyone sees as they go about their holiday shopping. As they drop, it's noticeable.

What goes unseen is the tremendous resources stores are dedicating on their backend operations. Target announced earlier this year a $7 billion plan to improve the customer experience both in-store and online. In order to do this, they'll need web and app developers, marketing experts, supply chain managers, business analysts and several other higher paying positions. It's these positions that are taking the place of seasonal employees.

As an instructor, I often encourage my students to look at the job postings on the National Retail Federation's website. This provides a better glimpse at just how varied the positions are today, and the pressing needs retailers face. It's no longer the low-pay, entry-level positions that previously occupied these pages. As with other industries, artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technology will continue to reshape retail, and it will demand thoughtful professionals to implement them in ways that help customers.

Secondly, vacant storefronts are all too common and have come to epitomize the "retail is dying" narrative. However, they are not a victim of trends happening now so much as they as are obvious reminders of past mistakes. Throughout the last half century, American consumerism ballooned and a frenzy of malls and shopping centers opened through the 1980s.

In those days, people weren't calculating the right size of space per person and the boom resulted in the U.S. being a tremendous outlier in retail space. In 2014, the U.S. still had more than six times the square footage of retail space than did other Western countries like the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany. With nearly 24 square feet per person, compared to less than four square feet per person, there was bound to be some regression to the norm, and it's compounded by the fact that organizations are growing more cognizant of their space, and how to maximize every inch.

The consumer buying experience is growing increasingly more complex, but the metrics to gauge them have remained largely unchanged. It's time to retool the lens through which retail is viewed, because what we have now distorts reality.

Frankly, retail is booming. While so many have proclaimed retail DOA, experts are preparing for a record holiday spending season, as consumers continue to open their wallets.

CBS News: America's employment problem isn't in manufacturing

Originally published on 11/14/2017 11:21 AM

President Donald Trump has vowed to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S., but there's another major industry that's not only already larger but creating more economic problems for its workers: retail. 

The U.S. continues to shift into a service-based economy, and nowhere is that more evident than in the growing ranks of retail workers. About 10 percent of Americans are employed in the sector, outpacing the 8 percent of workers in manufacturing. 

The retail workforce is surprisingly educated -- about one in five retail workers has a college degree -- but the work is typically low-paid and offers little chance for advancement, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 retail workers by the Fair Workweek Initiative, a left-leaning advocacy group. Only 8 percent of retail employees have what would be considered a "good" job, or one that pays at least $15 an hour and includes benefits such as health care, paid leave and full-time work. 

"America is a service economy today, and when you think about what it takes to transform the service economy into good American jobs, it's not the solutions that [President] Trump and those currently in control in Congress are interested in," said Carrie Gleason, the director of the Fair Workweek Initiative. 

She added, "We're never going to lift people out of poverty if we don't do what it takes to improve the quality of these jobs. Companies have moved to this disposable workforce model."

Employers often demand their workers be available to pick up any shift or take any hours, a stress that can wear on employees. That was experienced by former Walmart employee Kingia Phillips, who said she asked for more stable hours after the birth of her son. Instead, her boss cut her schedule by 75 percent to 8 hours a week, which she said wasn't enough to support her family. 

"It was all over the place," she said. "It would make it a whole lot easier if I could have a set schedule."

Phillips, who said she's now looking for a more predictable job, like working in a mailroom, said she received a few raises during her four years at Walmart, but that they didn't make much of an impact on her quality of life. Her two-week pay rose to about $450 from $400 over the four years, and she said she felt like she was treading water. 

That's similar to what the survey found, with many retail workers saying their jobs might offer lateral moves, yet no clear career path. One reason for a lack of mobility is that retail has added a whole new entry-level rung: part-time work. 

"Starting off part time is part of how you get your foot in the door," Gleason said. "Half of those we surveyed were still part time. The quality of the part-time work is really bad, with those workers making 68 cents to the dollar of full-time workers."

Even though the retail industry is in turmoil, with more than a dozen retailers filing for bankruptcy this year, the sector is in no danger of disappearing. In fact, employment is set to grow through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects 16.2 million Americans will work in the sector within eight years, compared with 15.8 million now. 

Manufacturing, however, will shed about 700,000 jobs by 2026, dipping to 11.6 million workers in 2026, the BLS projects. 

In Gleason's view, manufacturing work represents "jobs of the past, not the future," with the growing ranks of low-paid retail workers a call for policy changes that will improve pay and working conditions. 

Many retail workers report lives of financial instability and reliance on government aid programs like food stamps and welfare to make ends meet. About 45 percent of retail workers in the survey reported receiving one type of government benefit in the last 12 months. 

"It's not these people who are relying on public benefits; it's the companies that are relying on public benefits," Gleason said. 

That's a calculation made by other labor researchers, with a 2015 study from the University of California Berkeley Labor center finding that low-wage employers are relying on $153 billion in annual assistance from state and federal governments. Because their workers are paid so little, the employees turn to government aid programs to keep them from dire poverty.

It doesn't have to be that way, say some labor researchers. Walmart, for instance, "comports itself quite differently in different institutional environments," such operating stores in Mexico and Argentina with union contracts, according to Françoise Carré and Chris Tilly in "Where Bad Jobs Are Better," a new book from the Russell Sage Foundation. 

"Outside the United States, Walmart is neither uniformly a low-price seller nor uniformly a low-wage retailer, and in many countries it plays ball with labor unions, contrary to its zero-tolerance stance toward U.S. unions," Carré  and Tilly wrote. 

Their findings suggest that the disparities in retail work in the U.S. compared with Europe, for instance, are due to social norms and regulation. In other words, retail jobs in American don't have to be bad. Boosting pay, ensuring regular scheduling -- rather than the "just-in-time" schedules that can wreak havoc on retail workers' lives -- and discouraging the over reliance on part-time work can help make American retail a better employment sector than it is today, the authors note. 

"The retail sector needs to do a lot to improve the quality of jobs and improve their practices that give people the stability they need, and also to get ahead," Gleason said. 

Right now, she added, "the workforce is riding this roller coaster and trying to survive and make ends meet."

Medium: Retail Isn’t Working For People Like Me. Here’s How We Can Do Better

Originally published 11/14/2017

When I first started working at a Walmart in South Philadelphia, I couldn’t wait. It was my first real job out of school, and felt like a place where I was trusted to take on a lot of responsibility.

As a stocker, I kept track of the inventory coming in and out of the dairy department, unloaded trucks, and managed both helping customers and keeping the shelves full. I also made sure the temperature stayed even and that groceries stayed clean and presentable.

For the first few weeks, the job fulfilled my expectations. For the first time in my life, I felt like part of a team, and I knew my coworkers could trust me and lean on me to do the job right.

But the feeling it didn’t last. I got my first hint that something was wrong when I asked for some rest after a full day of lifting heavy boxes. Not only did I not get a break — I was criticized for even asking.

It didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t alone. Everyone at Walmart was working themselves to the bone. Associates stayed until midnight even when they had children back home, taking three or four buses or trains home, panicking when they missed the last bus.

But maybe worst of all, my coworkers weren’t killing themselves to get a promotion. They were doing it virtually to get by.

Most Walmart associates work part-time, variable hours. From one week to the next, you could work anywhere from just a few hours to a nearly full-time week. Our managers controlled our time, and it was clear that a “promotion” just meant you would be rewarded with more stable hours every week, which made it easier to plan the rest of your life around your work time. What it didn’t mean: higher pay, better benefits, or more opportunity.

Soon, I fell into the same trap. A new manager was hired, and my hours started to go haywire. Where other associates worked a shift from 7am — 4pm, I would be asked to close the store daily, working until past 10pm at night. I wouldn’t know my hours until Sunday night, ensuring that every week, I’d need to turn my plans upside down. I couldn’t see my friends, take night classes, or even have time to look for a second job.

In effect, I was being asked to accept hours that threw the rest of my life into jeopardy in the faint hope that one day the job would improve. It was a vicious cycle.

I thought it couldn’t get worse — until I became pregnant with my first child. Knowing I’d need to save up for after the birth, I worked through my pregnancy.

I clearly remember one Sunday on the first of the month, usually the busiest day when many customers received their food stamps. I was eight months pregnant and scheduled to close again. No customers had come in all day, then suddenly, at 6pm, customer traffic spiked. Groceries disappeared off the shelves and spilled on to the floor, boxes were hauled in by the dozen and frantically unpacked. By the end of the night, I could barely stand up.

Since I had worked so hard through my pregnancy — and had been at Walmart for nearly three years — I thought my managers would allow me to adjust my schedule after having my baby. The opposite happened.

When I asked to adjust my schedule to both work and take care of my child, my hours were cut drastically. Without warning, I went from 32 hours per week to eight, which cut my take home pay by 75 percent. When I reached out to my manager, they told me that having a child was not an excuse to ask for changes to my hours.

I had little choice but to leave and try to look for a better opportunity. Today, I’m hoping to go back to a new job in retail and find a new team.

But when I do, I’ll be back at the starting point.

Walmart was supposed to be a path to opportunity for me, but it provided little in the way of training or other means to climb up the career ladder. We were provided with training, to be sure, but it was rudimentary, consisting of a few hours of tutorials on the nuts and bolts of the job — how to operate a mailer, how to turn on machines and fix them if they malfunction.

While I was at the job, Walmart initiated a new program called Walmart Academy, intended to provide employees with more advanced skills, but I saw little evidence of it while there. I saw promotion of the Academy just once — when company management was filming a commercial for it during a shift.

But even if we received adequate training, it wouldn’t amount to much without predictable, stable, full-time hours, an adequate wage, and a chance to earn a real promotion — not one that simply rescued us from an impossible part-time treadmill. Ensuring these things for all employees would allow us to better serve customers and stay with the company for the long-term.

I get nervous this time of year thinking about Black Friday and the stress many of my fellow retail workers will need to undergo over the next few months. It doesn’t have to be this way. Retail can be a pathway to a better life for people like me. We just have to demand jobs that treat employees with respect and provide us with the skills to create a better future.

Kingia Phillips is a former stocker at Walmart and a member of OUR Walmart

    New York to Boost Scheduling Protections for Hourly Workers

    Originally published on 11/10/2017 4:19 PM

    ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new regulations Friday that seek to crack down on employers keeping hourly workers "on call," available to be called in at a moment's notice.

    The new labor rules would establish a 14-day advance notice standard for scheduling and require two hours' extra pay for last-minute assignments. If a shift is canceled by the employer within 72 hours of its start time, or if a worker is required to be on standby to be called in to work, the worker must be provided at least four hours of call-in pay.

    The extra pay wouldn't apply if an employee volunteers to fill in for a co-worker who had been scheduled 14 days in advance.

    The statewide regulations, set to take effect in January after a 45-day public comment period, supersede rules enacted by New York City this year ending on-call scheduling for retail workers in the city and requiring two weeks' scheduling notice for fast-food workers.

    "Our union is delighted with what has been proposed," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "The regulations will go a long way in improving the lives of retail workers."

    Heather Briccetti, president of the state Business Council, said the set of rules announced by the Democratic governor "represents another administrative and financial hurdle for New York employers that is not imposed in most other states."

    But Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, praised the plan that was developed after a series of public hearings that included input from business interests. He said the plan "creates a consistent and uniform policy on employee scheduling guidelines that will take effect across the entire state."

    Last fall, a coalition of New York-based worker advocates launched a national campaign to press retailers and restaurant chains to end the scheduling practice, which makes it hard for workers to schedule child care or work a second job.

    The Center for Popular Democracy said three in five American workers — about 75 million people — are paid hourly, with recent job growth mainly in low-wage jobs, often part-time and subject to last-minute scheduling practices.

    Some national retailers have agreed in recent years to stop on-call scheduling following a multistate inquiry by eight state attorneys general, including New York's Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat.

    In August, Oregon became the first state to crack down on on-call scheduling by mandating when workers get their schedules. Large employers will have to post schedules a week in advance starting in July. Similar bills had already been enacted in New York City, Seattle and San Francisco.

    Slate: Why a Fair Workweek Is the Working-Class Issue of Our Time

    Originally published on 10/31/2017 10:21 AM

    When Megan Vinkemulder started a job at Xerox in a small Oregon town a few years ago, she thought she had finally found a job with stability. After a series of fast food and restaurant jobs marked by unpredictable hours, her new one seemed to offer a haven: 40 hours a week she could count on.

    But it took almost no time for the promise to be broken. She discovered those 40 hours could be sliced and diced any way her managers wanted. She’d work nights from 2 p.m.–10 p.m. and mornings from 4 a.m. to noon, often with just a day’s notice. She’d be asked to work two four-hour shifts split by three unpaid hours. She would go in on holidays and snow days. She’d be threatened with firing for any complaints.

    As a result, Megan’s personal life went haywire. Her chaotic schedule strained her relationship with her boyfriend, forcing her to constantly cancel plans, and eventually they decided to call it quits. Because she needed to work every holiday, she couldn’t see her family for a year. Job hunting wasn’t an option—most job interviews were scheduled in the middle of her shifts.

    Then she met an organizer from the Oregon Working Families Party who was working on a campaign to make hours more predictable and stable. Megan, who had never been involved in activism before, initially hesitated, worried about blowback from her boss.

    But after connecting with others like her, Megan went all in. Soon she was knocking on doors, speaking publicly about her ordeal, and even traveling to the Oregon House of Representatives to give testimony.

    Oregon passed the country’s first statewide fair workweek law in August. The law ultimately guarantees that working people at major retail, food, and hospitality companies get a heads-up about their schedules at least two weeks in advance, overtime pay for hours worked with less than 10 hours of rest between shifts, and the right to request a flexible work schedule.

    It echoes laws in other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Emeryville, a retail hub in the Bay Area. In San Jose, California, voters last fall passed the first-ever fair workweek ballot measure, voting overwhelmingly to give part-time workers the opportunity to work enough hours for a reliable paycheck by forcing businesses to offer more hours to part-time workers before hiring new workers. These laws make it easier for working people to balance work and family and predict their hours from week to week, ensuring they can better plan their budget and their time.

    This movement for a fair workweek has emerged in response to the rapid expansion of low-wage service jobs over the past few decades. As many chains turned to workforce management technologies to squeeze more out of workers, hours for the growing service workforce became increasingly unpredictable. Big brands started to use “on-call” scheduling that required employees to be available around-the-clock. The recession accelerated these trends as employers turned many full-time jobs into part-time ones.

    Even when the economy bounced back, the recession had made its mark, leaving millions of jobs that require workers to constantly scramble for hours with no guarantee they’d add up to cover basic costs.

    In response, workers began to organize to win back a say in their workweek. In Seattle, for example, the movement was led by Starbucks baristas like Darrion Sjoquist. Sjoquist’s mother worked as a Starbucks shift supervisor when he was in high school, coming home late at night and leaving before the sun was up. When his mom was called to work unexpectedly, Darrion picked up caretaking duties for his niece.

    Years later, when Darrion became a Starbucks barista himself, he saw little had changed at the company and stepped up to organize alongside his co-workers to call on Starbucks to provide a fair work week. He led his co-workers in a letter-writing campaign to then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and even questioned Schultz at the Starbucks 2016 Shareholders Meeting about whether he supported fair working hours. Driven by thousands of baristas speaking out from Seattle to New York City to Los Angeles to Atlanta, Starbucks adopted 2 weeks advance notice and guaranteed 8 hours of rest between shifts. Seattle City Council unanimously passed its Secure Scheduling policy later that year, ensuring more reliable hours for Starbucks workers as well as many others throughout the city. Nationally, baristas continue to call attention to how lean staffing undermines these gains and makes it hard to have a stable income and even call out sick.

    Workers like Sjoquist and Vinkemulder are changing the conversation on the concept of flexibility as a whole to include the conditions of the low-wage service sector. Peruse a variety of retail job listings and you’ll see “flexibility” listed as a perk of working for these companies. Flexibility can be a good thing for many workers, but as these workers learned, employers often use it as a code word for being ready to work 24/7.

    The demand for open, endless availability can keep workers from advancing at work. A forthcoming Fair Workweek Initiative survey, for example, shows that open availability to work is a top criterion for promotion in retail—even as it puts stresses on workers’ families, budgets, and health that make keeping a job with such hours unsustainable.

    The need for more predictable schedules has taken on even more importance as the Trump administration barrels forward to strip working people of basic rights—and as retail grows increasingly volatile. Department stores have lost more jobs in the past year than coal mining or steel production combined, but the White House has stayed virtually silent. In this moment of rapid change, the fair workweek movement is putting guardrails in place to protect working people as so much else is in flux.

    Many Americans today feel pressure to respond to work whenever it pops up, working on weekends and late at night. Workers in the jobs with the least security, like Vinkemulder and Sjoquist, are leading the fight for hours that let us balance a job, a family, and a personal life. Each new reform shows workers across the landscape that it’s not too much to ask for a workweek that we can really count on.

    Better Life Lab is a partnership of Slate and New America.

    Human Resource Executive: Bringing Predictability to Scheduling

    Originally published 09/18/2017

    The fair work week movement racked up a major victory this summer, as Oregon became the first state to enact a predictive scheduling law. Signed into law last month by Gov. Kate Brown, the Fair Work Week Act was passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

    When the law goes into effect in July 2018, employers in the retail, hospitality and food-service industries will be required to give workers their schedules in writing at least one week in advance. Starting in 2020, that advance notice extends to two weeks. They must also give workers a minimum 10-hour break between shifts or pay them extra. The law only impacts companies with 500 or more employees.

    While Oregon is the first state to pass such legislation, it follows the path of U.S. cities which have enacted similar laws. In 2014, San Francisco became the first city to pass fair workweek legislation with its Retail Workers Bill of Rights. It was followed by Seattle, New York, Washington, San Jose and Emeryville, Calif. Employment law experts stress the significance of such legislation at the state level.

    "Oregon is going to become an incubator that tests exactly how well predictive scheduling works and its impact on employees and businesses," says Stephen Scott, an associate in the Portland office of Fisher Phillips. "It will provide an idea as to where this could head next, either at a statewide level with other employee-friendly states or if it starts to gain momentum and a federal law actually gets passed in some regard."

    In June, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Elizabeth Warren reintroduced the Schedules that Work Act, originally introduced in 2014. Like the Oregon law, it would require employers to provide schedules two weeks in advance, along with extra shift pay when employees' schedules are changed abruptly or they are assigned to particularly difficult shifts, including split shifts and call-in shifts.

    Proponents of the fair workweek concept generally agree the likelihood of passing federal legislation is bleak, particularly with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate. According to Carrie Gleason, director of the Brooklyn-based Center for Popular Democracy's Fair Workweek Initiative, the Trump administration has inspired local and state policymakers to take action at the state and local level because "they can't count on the federal government protecting us."

    Other states considering similar initiatives include Connecticut, California, North Carolina and Ohio. In June, lawmakers in the Windy City introduced the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance. If passed, Chicago employers would be required to post workers' schedules at least 14 days in advance and to pay them an extra hour of "predictability pay" if their schedules are changed after that time. If employees' hours are cancelled or reduced with less than 24-hour notice, they would be eligible for up to four hours of pay to compensate them for the lost income.

    Support for such legislation is strong, at least among the general public. According to a recent poll of more than 5,000 working people by the Center for Popular Democracy, 73 percent of Americans back laws that require employers to give workers stable hours, input into their schedules and more opportunities for full-time work. The poll also revealed 67 percent of hourly workers are subject to unfair scheduling practices and 38 percent experience varying number of hours from week to week.

    While workers welcome such legislation, employer-centric organizations such as the National Restaurant Association and National Retail Federation, have come out in staunch opposition to fair workweek laws. In a written statement, the National Retail Federation argued that "a one-size-fits-all, government-mandated solution ignores the realities of what it takes to run a business and adds to the growing number of laws and regulations that drive up consumer costs and contribute to the loss of jobs in communities the retailer serves."

    That comes as no surprise to Eric Steinert, a partner in the labor and employment department at Seyfarth Shaw in San Francisco. "You will definitely see the industry push back on this, because they are not going to be able to meet these unpredictable changes in customer demand and they are going to lose business as a result," he says.

    For employers in states with fair workweek legislation, there will be challenges, as they are forced to rethink their scheduling practices and processes to comply with the requirements. However, the vast majority of businesses won't feel much of an impact at all because such legislation primarily targets "specific businesses that have been found to be some of the worst actors," according to Hannah Taube, spokesperson for Oregon Working Families Party.

    "There are going to be a lot of businesses that are scared about a new labor law going into effect, but then learn they don't have to change much of anything if they already have a pretty contentious process around scheduling," says Taube. "As long as you take into mind the ways that work schedules affect workers and be fair and treat your employees as humans, you are probably already complying with these laws."

    Send questions or comments about this story to hreletters@lrp.com.

     

    Slate: Malls and Restaurants Schedule Workers at the Last Minute. Oregon Just Made That Illegal

    Originally published on Slate on 08/10/2017 5:54 PM

    As the Democratic Party continues to flail over what besides resistance to Donald Trump it stands for (what’s the health care plan, anyway?), they can look for inspiration to Oregon, where Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed the country’s first statewide employee scheduling law on Tuesday.

    Starting in July 2018, Oregon will require big companies in retail, hospitality, and food service to give employees schedules at least a week ahead of time, and offer stress pay to workers who don’t get a 10-hour break between shifts. By 2020, employers covered by the law will have to hand out schedules two weeks in advance.

    Oregon is the first state to pass such a law, which grows out of a vibrant municipal movement to humanize low-wage fast food and mall jobs that can no longer be thought of as stopgap positions, if they ever were. The median age of a retail employee, for example, is 39. According to a New York state study, most retail workers are breadwinners. It's hard to spend time with your family if you never know when you get off work.

    San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City all have similar policies in place. The Oregon bill may be a sign that the movement is about to jump from cities to states. In December, the Illinois attorney general announced that a group of large retailers including Aeropostale and Disney would stop using on-call scheduling after an investigation. A handful of other blue-state AGs are also looking into it. In 2015, Elizabeth Warren introduced a fair scheduling bill in the Senate.

    Conservative states have rallied against the movement, drafting pre-emption bills to prevent cities from passing their own ordinances. Georgia, Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, and Tennessee have such laws on the books. But voters seem to generally approve of protections for low-wage workers: In November, deep-red Arizona voted by referendum to mandate paid sick days, in a rebuke to the Legislature's broad anti-worker pre-emption bill.

    The bigger pictures is that scheduling laws are the latest addition to a slate of state-level progressive policies, inspired by city-level reforms, to help the largely ignored 25 million Americans who work in retail and food service. Those include:

    • Paid sick leave laws
    • Bans on noncompete agreements (yes, even Jimmy John’s and Amazon warehouses have forced workers to relinquish their value on the labor market)
    • Minimum-wage hikes

    It’s adding up to something like a platform. Want to be the party of workers? Go to where the jobs are.

    In that sense, it could be a particularly salient counterpoint to Donald Trump’s inane quest to resuscitate the tiny, tiny coal-mining industry, with its immoral effects on both workers and the environment. Retail work is flagging in some sectors but remains an enormous section of the labor force (16 million workers), and warehouse employment is skyrocketing to keep pace with e-commerce demand. Restaurants have created more jobs since January than health care, construction, or manufacturing.

    That reflects a structural change in American life. In 2016, for the first time ever, Americans spent more money at restaurants and bars than on groceries. We’ve been eating out more since the ’70s, when female labor force participation was rising dramatically. But even as that rate has plateaued and slowed, the trend toward restaurant spending has increased as young people delay marriage and household formation. It also helps that the supermarket is cheaper than ever, meaning we can spend more money away from home. (It’s not just that Americans are trading TV dinners for Chipotle; it’s also that we are spending less on groceries—down from 8.3 percent of disposable income in 1982 to 5.7 percent in 2011.) By 2020, Derek Thompson writes at the Atlantic, restaurant work will surpass manufacturing.

    In short, there is nothing niche about improving the quality of retail and restaurant work.

    Why don’t we pay as much attention to retail and restaurant jobs? Demographics are partly to blame. The retail jobs that have been hardest hit by job loss tend to be held by females and an above-average share of minorities. The female employment share in restaurant work is two points above the BLS average; the black-American share is two points above, and the Hispanic share is nine points above. This translate to a perceived lack of value, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote in April:

    Work is gendered and it is racialized. What work matters is often tied to who performs it. It is no accident that those professions dominated by white men tend to bring the most prestige, respect, and pay, while those dominated by women—and especially women of color—are often ignored, disdained, and undercompensated.

    But the problem is also that restaurant and retail jobs just aren’t that good. They pay, on average, just over half as much as manufacturing jobs. They don’t provide the routine shifts of punch-in, punch-out factory work.

    Make the jobs better, and people will care more about them—both politicians and the workers who hold them. Fair scheduling is a more bulletproof policy than the progressive stalwart Fight for $15. (There are early signs that the rising-to-$15-wage has caused low-income workers to take home less as a group, even in booming Seattle.) Ensuring that workers have predictable, human schedules could be easily implemented across rich and poor cities, and it doesn’t need to cost a dime.

    Vox: Oregon Workers Won't Get Crazy Schedules Next Year

    Originally published on Vox on 08/10/2017 4:16 PM

    Starting next year, workers in Oregon will no longer get crazy work schedules —for the most part. On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown signed the Fair WorkWeek bill into law, making Oregon the first state to require large employers to give workers advanced notice of their schedules.

    The law mandates that businesses with more than 500 employees give workers at least one week’s notice of their work hours starting next year, and two weeks’ notice starting in 2020. They must also compensate employees for last-minute schedule changes and give them at least a 10-hour break between shifts.

    This marks the latest victory for labor activists who have been pushing progressive cities and states across the country to do more for low-wage workers, whether by raising the minimum wage or requiring employers to offer workers paid parental leave.

    Advocates hope that more states — blue states, at least — will follow Oregon’s lead and pressure Republicans in Congress to take action. “We do hope that that pressure across the country will bring momentum and urgency to find a national solution,” said Elianne Farhat, who directs the Fair Work Week campaign at the Center for Popular Democracy.

    Irregular scheduling disrupts people’s lives

    People working low-wage jobs in retail, health care, and restaurants are the workers who get stuck with the most erratic work schedules, according to research from the University of Oregon. They tend to be young women of color who have children at home.

    Labor economists at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, estimate that about 17 percent of US workers have unstable schedules. That, in turn, is linked to higher rates of work-family conflict and stress.

    While the federal government has limited data on how many workers are subject to irregular scheduling, a few surveys suggest that the problem has been growing as the economy shifts away from manufacturing and toward services. Nearly 80 percent of all US jobs are now in the service sector.

    Last year, researchers from the university’s Labor and Education Center interviewed 750 workers from a variety of professions in Oregon. One in six said their supervisors had given them less than 24 hours’ notice of their job shift, and nearly three-quarters got less than two weeks advance notice. About 44 percent said they had worked back-to-back shifts, and 41 percent had been sent home early from their shift.

    Hectic scheduling wreaks havoc on workers’ lives. Tia Raynor, a US Army veteran who did two tours in Iraq, worked for two years as a barista at a coffee shop in the Portland International Airport. She could be scheduled to work a shift as early as 3:30 am or one that ended as late as midnight.

    Raynor, who traveled to Salem, Oregon, to tell lawmakers about the impact of her work schedule on her life as they were debating the scheduling law, said she didn’t have any choice in which shifts she got. She often had to scramble to find someone to cover her evening shifts at a second job as a banquet server — which she needed to supplement her minimum wage earnings.

    But the worst days were when her manager at the coffee shop scheduled her for a late-night shift followed by an early morning shift the next day, she said, a retail practice known as“clopening.”

    “It’s difficult to do that to your body,” said Raynor, who is now 33. “There were days I would work 48 hours in a row. Then I would go to my other job sleep and for an hour or two in parking lot. When that was done I would sleep for another hour or two and then go back to the coffee shop.”

    It was her only option, she said, because otherwise she would have been homeless. Her erratic schedule made it impossible for her to get proper treatment for her PTSD. Raynor wanted to get off her medication, but was unable to make plans to attend the weekly group therapy sessions.

    She’s happy that lawmakers have decided to stop the kind of “scheduling abuse” she has lived with for years. She no longer works at the coffee shop, but she still juggles three banquet-serving jobs. She’s expecting her first child, and she said it gives her peace of mind to know that employers will need to give workers some level of stability in their lives.

    “It’s so good to know that when I make an appointment for the doctor, I will already know my schedule,” said Raynor, who lives in Portland. “If I need to take my kid to the doctor, I will be able to make an appointment.”

    The problem is worst for service workers

    Last year, Seattle and San Francisco became the first cities to pass laws protecting workers from irregular scheduling. New York City followed in May.

    The Oregon law passed with bipartisan support after Democratic lawmakers worked with Republicans to tweak the law and make it more flexible for employers. Now lawmakers in Chicago, Connecticut, California, North Carolina, and Massachusetts are considering similar bills.

    The real goal for advocates, though, is a nationwide law. Raynor argues that Republicans should support the laws as a way to get people back to work. Her mother, who was single, had trouble juggling several jobs precisely because of the “scheduling chaos.” So they ended up on food stamps because she couldn’t count on a fixed schedule and steady source of income.

    “People can get out of poverty if they could just plan their lives a bit better,” says Raynor. “I really think this is the first step to getting people off public assistance.”

    Still, it’s unlikely that Congress would take up the issue at the national level anytime soon, particularly after stalled efforts to raise the minimum wage and create a paid family leave program. Democrats in Congress are trying anyway. In June, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Schedules That Work Act with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The law requires employers to post schedules two weeks in advance for workers in retail, food service, and cleaning jobs. It also guarantees some compensation for employees whose schedules are changed at the last minute, or who are assigned particularly difficult shifts.

    So far, no Republicans have co-sponsored the bill. The lack of support among Republicans suggests that workers in blue states will be more likely to get these protections, while those who live in red states are left behind.

    Refinery 29: What 5 Oregon Women Think Of The First State-Level Fair Scheduling Law

    Originally published on 08/10/2017 3:50 PM

    Oregon became the first state to require that employers give workers advance notice of their schedules when Gov. Kate Brown signed a fair scheduling bill into law on Tuesday.

    The "Fair Work Week" Act guarantees people working for food, hospitality, and retail companies with more than 500 employees notice of their upcoming schedule. It also allows a break of at least 10 hours between shifts (meaning no quick turnarounds to work consecutive closing and opening shifts), and prohibits employers from retaliating when employees express their schedule needs.

    Major cities such as New York City and San Francisco have passed similar laws, but no other states have protections in place for food and retail workers' schedules. And because most low-wage workers are women (many of whom work for food, hospitality, and retail companies), the Oregon law will inevitably benefit female workers.

    "While D.C. has lost sight of working Americans, Oregon lawmakers came together this session to help workers balance life and their job with the first statewide Fair Work Week bill," Gov. Brown said on Facebook. "Here in Oregon, we keep moving forward."

    Refinery29 talked to five Oregon women who currently or previously work in the affected industries, and they all — along with the Oregon Working Families Party that led the coalition in support of the bill — hope to see more states follow in Oregon's footsteps.

    "This is a huge moment for labor rights in America," said Hannah Taube, spokesperson for the Oregon Working Families Party, in a statement sent to Refinery29. "We hope Oregon is the first of many states to expand scheduling protections for workers — knowing when you work more than a day in advance is essential to parents, students, and many other workers trying to make ends meet with two or three different jobs."