A great food scene needs to support food service workers

SEPTEMBER 25, 2018

IIf you live in the city, you’ve seen it — the vast expansion of places to eat and drink, from small cafes to 70,000-square-foot breweries. Philadelphia’s food scene has really grown up; our restaurants easily could (and do) rival that of New York and D.C. As someone who ran a restaurant here for four years, and who continues to work with local restaurateurs, I’m excited to see how the city has matured beyond cheesesteaks and soft pretzels.

With all of this, we've been given the opportunity to change the way we do business and many restaurateurs are getting on board. This industry is a grueling one. It’s hard, honorable work but many workers are left struggling to make ends meet, even when working over 40 hours a week. In recent months, there’s been a lot of conversation about how Councilwoman Helen Gym’s proposed Predictable Scheduling bill (sometimes called the Fair Workweek bill) will impact restaurants in the city. I thought it'd be helpful to share my perspective from my own experience in practicing ethical employment in an industry that isn’t always fair to the workers that make it run.

When we opened Girard Bruncherie in November 2014 we were inspired by our own experiences of being on the front line. We knew that restaurant workers deserved a fair wage, and we’d seen firsthand the restaurant scene in San Francisco, where owners paid at least $15/hour and benefits. As of this month, 42 states still have a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers where employers can pay as low as $2.13/hour.

There is little to no enforcement for wage theft/violations. In a study done by ROC United, tipped restaurant workers are nearly three times as likely, to live below the poverty line as the rest of the employed population. Eighteen percent of tipped workers live below the poverty line, compared to 8 percent of all employed workers. In the eight states without a sub-minimum wage, food service workers don’t have to scrape by solely on tips, customer service is not only surviving, but thriving — and so is business.

When we opened, we committed to paying a fair wage based on a fair schedule, which we did by including a 20 percent hospitality fee in the price of our meals. Just like when you go to the auto mechanic and they bill you for parts and labor.

Our staff were guaranteed a 40-hour schedule if they wanted one, and schedules were predictable from one week to the next. While we generally maintained the same schedule from week to week, we’d shift around if someone requested off. During our entire time in business I never declined a single RTO, because these are people with lives that don't revolve solely around work.

What I found over time is that, while treating restaurant workers ethically required a little bit more of an investment up front, it cut down on turnover so much that in the end it paid big dividends. Because our staff felt valued, they took the time to really know the product and the clientele, and that showed in the bottom line, year in and year out. There was considerable cohesion between the front of house/wait staff and the back of house/cooking staff—everyone worked as a unit to deliver an exceptional experience for our customers.

Over the course of her four years with us, our sous-chef got engaged, had her first child, and eventually became the general manager of the restaurant. In the food service industry, maternity leave rarely exists, and many working moms struggle to retain their job.

I am proud to have been able to keep her position for her, along with some pay while on leave. I couldn't imagine the stress of a new baby on top of having to look for a new job. Yet, the reality is most workers are at risk of losing their job when they do anything that doesn't fit into the restaurant’s schedule and own particular needs — whether it be a much needed vacation or family planning.

Another one of the staff decided that he wanted to get certified as an emergency medical technician. The staff collectively worked out the schedule to accommodate his classes. Everyone had each other’s backs, in no small part because they knew that if they ever needed a similar accommodation, it would be the norm, not the exception. Even when I was hospitalized and out of work for an entire month, my team pulled together and did a great job on their own.

After spending four years running the Bruncherie, I decided to sell the restaurant in the spring of 2018 in order to prioritize my personal well-being.

At the end of the day, it’s all about respect. As owners and operators we must acknowledge the effort and sacrifice our employers put forth to make our business a success. They deserve so much more from us. I’m confident that other restaurants can succeed with an ethical, highroad model as well. The restaurant industry should be lining up in support of Councilwoman Gym’s Fair Workweek bill, and proving that we can support our staff at the same time that we continue to make Philly’s restaurant scene one of the best in the nation.

Brian Oliveira was the owner and head chef at Girard Bruncherie for four years, until selling it this spring. He is currently working as a food industry advocate and consultant to other restaurants.

Law regulating scheduling would help both workers, economy

SEPTEMBER 04, 2018

A long-standing myth that pits business interests against workers’ rights goes something like this: Every gain made by workers — think wages, working conditions or hours — automatically diminishes employers’ ability to turn a profit and keep their businesses afloat.

This tired argument has been trotted out for decades by economic conservatives and big business. Child labor laws that prevented children under 14 from working full-time jobs? Bad for business — not only did the labor pool shrink, but employers also had to pay adult workers higher wages than they paid children. Pay parity for women workers? Minimum wage? Those things are nice ideas, but they’ll simply cost businesses too much, and the ripple effects will slow down the economy.

The modern incarnation of this anti-labor tactic surrounds an ordinance up for a vote in Chicago’s City Council over predictive scheduling, the latest innovation in the workers’ rights movement. The Chicago Tribune called the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance, a “boneheaded proposal” because it would be too onerous for employers, despite the fact that a similar ordinance has been in place in San Francisco since 2014. Others have subsequently been passed in Seattle, New York City, Emeryville, Calif., and Oregon without disaster striking any of their economies.

The Chicago ordinance protects workers by regulating how employers schedule hourly shift workers in companies with more than 50 employees. Employers would be required to provide employees with their scheduled shifts two weeks in advance and offer “predictability pay” for any changes to the schedule inside that window, including adding or subtracting hours. The ordinance also protects workers’ “right to rest” — to refuse to be scheduled for the opening and the closing shift in the same 11-hour period — as well as their right to decline additional hours added to a shift without fear of repercussions from the employer.

Research shows that workers with the lowest income are most likely to work irregular hours, with at least 10 percent of American labor working in jobs with unpredictable schedules. Indeed, 41 percent of hourly workers report receiving their schedules one week or less in advance of their shifts. This uncertainty leads to instability across the board: income volatility, increased work stress, and heightened work-family conflicts. Together, these obstacles plaguing low-wage workers exacerbate rising inequality, which is arguably the
biggest actual threat to our economy.

It works like this: Predictability pay accrues on top of an employee’s wages per shift and is equivalent to her hourly wage. If an employer changes the schedule with less than two weeks’ notice but more than 24 hours’ notice, they are only required to pay the employee one hour of predictability pay; if they provide less than 24 hours’ notice, employers could owe up to four hours of predictability pay for reducing hours in a shift. In other words, employers are incentivized to plan ahead, but they’re not prevented from making game-time scheduling changes.

To help businesses, the tech sector has stepped up and created multiple platforms to allow employers to easily schedule workers, helping them to limit the additional bureaucracy the Fair Workweek Ordinance entails. These tools will hardly break the bank for the vast majority of businesses affected, namely fast-food chains and large scale retailers.

Opponents say that if, for example, there’s a heat wave and more people are stopping into a drugstore to buy water, owners will face burdensome costs to add workers to the shift to cover increased demand. But don’t workers deserve a greater share of the increased profits made by the store that day, since they provided the means necessary to sell the product? Predictability pay ensures that workers get a bigger piece of a bigger pie.

These protections are a necessary step as business owners and labor adapt to the gig economy, where more people work multiple jobs and retailers are open for longer hours. Some have pointed out that the labor insecurity inherent to the gig economy is not a product of technology, but of policy. Policy, then, is needed to ease the transition away from the old nine-to-five workday. Workers are often juggling multiple jobs, school, and taking care of their families. Balancing these various priorities is practically impossible without being able to predict when you’ll be working, and how much you’ll earn every two weeks. Workers shouldn’t have to worry that they won’t make rent on time or be able to buy their kids school supplies if their boss cuts back their hours.

The Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance will make for happier, more loyal workers, which is good for business. It will reduce income inequality, which is good for the economy. Businesses should work hand-in-hand with labor to accomplish something great for Chicago.

Isabelle Dienstag is a research fellow with Innovation Illinois.

Fair Workweek first step in better working conditions for Philadelphians

SEPTEMBER 03, 2018

This Labor Day, workers deserve much more than our words. They deserve our actions.

We don't need to look any further than our own city to see the power of working people leading on critical issues in our economy and society.

Long before this year's teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona rocked the nation, I marched alongside Philadelphia teachers who fought for and won a contract to restore essential classroom resources and keep middle-class jobs in our city. I've met with hotel workers and nurses who are unionizing for better care by keeping client ratios at sustainable levels, and I've supported Philadelphia's airport workers who won a multiyear battle for a living-wage contract that offers them a path out of poverty.

For the last year, I've been listening to Philadelphians who work at some of the largest retail and fast-food chains in the country, yet make among the lowest wages in our economy. Retail, hospitality, and food service are the second-largest sector of Philadelphia's economy and growing fast. There are more than 130,000 workers in hourly jobs that have little predictability in scheduling or guarantee of hours. As a result, these are Philadelphians struggling to make ends meet, trying to go to school and gain new skills, juggling multiple jobs, and scrambling for affordable childcare.

A recent Philadelphia study of these workers showed that almost 80 percent don't have a regular daytime work schedule and 45 percent have schedules so chaotic that they cannot predict a weekly income. The stakes are especially high for working parents: Many lose out on childcare subsidies or access to benefits when their hours fluctuate dramatically. And a significant percentage of workers say they forgo school or other employment in order to keep their schedules open in case they are called into work.

This doesn't just impact workers. There's a big hit on businesses as well, in terms of high turnover, low customer satisfaction ratings, and threats from e-commerce. A recent study at the Gap showed that when their retail stores provided predictable and stable scheduling, productivity and profitability improved and employee turnover declined. 

After hearing these stories from our constituents, our City Council took action.

We held a hearing and met with dozens of businesses, worker organizations, students, and nonprofit advocacy groups. And in June, eight council members introduced a bill that would require large corporations to give workers a two-week notice of their schedules, a right to rest between shifts, and a pathway to gain more hours. This "Fair Workweek" bill is one of the most powerful tools municipalities can use to both support workers and encourage sustainable growth for business.

In passing our Fair Workweek bill, Philadelphia will join 17 states and municipalities who recognize that stable and predictable schedules are smart for business and smart for workers.

We have a long way to go.

This Labor Day, we must build a renewed sense of worker power through new forms of organizing and new policy solutions.  From gig workers, like those who deliver our food and packages, to the retail, food service, and hospitality workers who are rallying for "Fair Workweek" legislation, I am committed to supporting the next phase of the labor movement and the fight for economic justice.

Helen Gym is an at-large member of Philadelphia City Council.

A fair work week is the fair price of doing business right

AUGUST 21, 2018

For the life of us, we don’t understand why a minimum-wage worker shouldn’t have a regular schedule and get an extra hour of pay if asked to come in at the last minute.

Is it really too costly to pay a single parent a little extra for saying “no” to their kid’s ball game because they need to say “yes” to flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant?

Is it really too hard on the bottom line to shell out an extra $12 to a son or daughter who scrambles to reschedule their aging parent’s medical appointment so they can work an extra shift as an overnight security guard?

We don’t think so. We call it the cost of doing business, of treating workers like human beings. We also believe it’s good for business to cultivate loyalty by treating workers fairly.

Our counterparts at the Chicago Tribune claim it’s bad for business to require that workers be given a more predictable schedule, and to sweeten the pot just a bit when employees put aside their private lives at the 11th hour to accommodate the boss’s needs. The Tribune says Chicago’s proposed Fair Workweek Ordinance is a “bone-headed idea” that belongs “in the trash can.” 

We couldn’t disagree more. We think the City Council should follow Seattle, San Francisco and other cities, and pass the ordinance.

First introduced last year by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and Ald. John Arena (45th), the ordinance now has the support of some 30 aldermen. It was championed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, whose members are primarily retail and food industry workers.

The ordinance would require businesses with more than 50 workers to schedule hourly workers two weeks in advance. The requirement would apply only to those workers earning less than $50,000. If an employer adds extra time to a worker’s schedule, the worker would get one extra hour of “predictability” pay. If a worker’s shift is canceled at the last minute, the worker would be paid up to four hours as compensation.

“The instability it creates when you have no idea what day you’re even going to work is detrimental,” Pawar told us. “When you treat people with respect and dignity, it transforms what happens in the workplace.”

Unpredictable, last-minute scheduling is a widespread problem in Illinois, “resulting in underemployment and work-life conflicts with child care, parenting and other family obligations,” according to a study from labor researchers at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households points out the detrimental impact of unpredictable schedules on workers’ ability to earn a decent living. Greater predictability would foster “greater labor-force engagement,” the report found.

No surprise there. Workers want to work for a company that treats them well. In this “gig economy,” with an increasing percentage of people working multiple jobs to make ends meet, predictability is a must. 

A job at a restaurant or retail store is often a steppingstone to something better. But a worker can’t climb that economic ladder if he or she can’t schedule classes because they have no idea when they might have to work — or when a shift might be canceled, reducing their paycheck.

Another provision in the ordinance would require businesses to offer additional hours to existing workers before hiring more employees. A common practice among companies now is to limit the hours of workers so as to avoid paying full-time worker benefits. “They’re gaming the system to stay below the benefit threshold,” Pawar said.

A business, to be sure, can’t entirely predict the future. Customer demand ebbs and flows. Machinery breaks down. Weather is unpredictable. Workers call in sick and have to be replaced at the last minute.

But none of that is an excuse to treat workers like serfs at the beck and call of management.

In America’s expanding gig economy, there’s nothing “boneheaded” about demanding that employers respect that workers have other lives

Predictable work schedules are better for employees — and employers

AUGUST 17, 2018

Michael Ortiz is a wheelchair attendant at Midway Airport.

He works about 35 hours a week, but when his employer Prospect Airport Services assigns him mandatory overtime at the last minute, it means he has less quality time to spend with his 6-year-old son.

“Sometimes the schedules aren’t available with enough time for me and my coworkers to know whether we have to work mandatory overtime, and that can make arranging child care a big challenge for many of us. Sometimes I miss my son’s after-school activities because I’m required to work overtime, and I need the money to pay for the things my family needs,” says Ortiz. “If I had a set schedule, with advance notice of my overtime, I could better support my family.”

The City Council has the chance to make life more stable and predictable for hundreds of thousands of workers like Ortiz.

Thirty aldermen and a broad coalition of organized labor, workers and advocacy organizations are supporting the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance, which would create common sense rules about how and when work schedules can be changed.

This ordinance would give workers the right to request more flexible or predictable work arrangements and, in some cases, to receive a more customized schedule. Workers would have the right to refuse shifts with 11 hours or less between them, since workers are often expected to work a closing shift and then an opening shift just a few hours later, without even enough time to go home and change or rest.

The ordinance would guarantee workers at least two weeks advance notice of their schedules, and require employers to first offer existing employees additional hours prior to hiring additional workers. This will help in combating underemployment and underscheduling of Chicago workers. If an employer changes an employee’s schedule with less than 24 hours’ notice, the employer would have to provide one additional hour of pay for each changed shift, except when changes are due to unforeseen causes beyond the control of the employer.

The bill also would require clear expectations about hours and schedules from the start. Employers would have to provide a good faith estimate in writing of the employee’s work schedule and minimum hours prior to or on commencement of employment.

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board slammed the ordinance in an Aug. 8 editorial, saying it would hurt business. But the truth is, this ordinance is a compromise. After hearing from business owners and employees from across Chicago, aldermen amended the bill to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees. This ordinance focuses on the largest sectors of our economy, such as retail, food service, hospitality and health care.

The reality is, in light of the national trend around fair workweek laws, companies such as the Gap and Starbucks have already done away with on-call scheduling. They provide two weeks notice or more, and have done so to great success to their bottom line. Most labor contracts negotiated by unions have significant scheduling clauses in them. Hundreds of companies in all industries across the Chicago area are already making this work.

The Tribune also overlooks new data that shows that for the Gap, enacting many of these changes sparked a 7 percent growth in sales and a 5 percent increase in worker productivity. The data, from the Center for WorkLife Law, a research and advocacy organization at University of California Hastings College of the Law, shows that fair scheduling policies have helped reduce costs to companies who have to deal with increased hiring, training and retention costs for a workforce that gets burned out because they can't predict their schedules week to week.

Protecting workers who bear the brunt of last-minute changes to their schedules, some even after they've shown up to work, is a practice that many businesses already do. If you hire a catering company or book an event space, and cancel at the last minute, most caterers or event spaces keep deposits to cover the built-in costs of doing business. The same protection should be granted to workers who are told to go home or have to set up extra child care coverage, or skip a class or training program, when their schedules change. There are costs associated with getting to work: think parking, public transportation charges, paying for gas, setting up child or elder care or telling your other job or schooling that you can't make it because you're committed to upholding your end of the employment bargain.

Michael Ortiz and others like him can have a voice in their workweeks, so when they clock out they can be with their families, take vocational or college courses or volunteer in their communities.

All aldermen have to do is pass the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance.

John Arena is alderman of Chicago’s 45th Ward. Ameya Pawaris alderman of Chicago’s 47th Ward.

Philly moms need more control over their work schedules

JULY 5, 2018

Philadelphia's moms are suffering from a higher-than-average pregnancy-related death rate, and that burden has been disproportionately born by African American women. Philadelphia's moms are arriving at pregnancy sicker, and with chronic health conditions that require a higher level of care. A New York Times Magazine article from earlier this year found that black women — even wealthy ones — were more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women of other races.

A study released earlier this year showed that an overwhelming majority of the city's 130,000 service workers experience conflicts between their work schedules and their family care-giving responsibilities. That largely occurs because many large employers have changed the way they write schedules, in order to provide more flexibility for managers.

On June 14, eight members of City Council (led by Councilwoman Helen Gym) introduced a bill to create a fair scheduling law for the city's retail, food service and hospitality workers. As the senior director of policy for the Maternity Care Coalition (MCC), I see that our clients struggle every day to make doctor's appointments, often because they don't know when they will be called in to work.

One MCC client described her challenges:


"I work two part-time jobs to support myself and my 3-month-old infant. My one employer is constantly rearranging my schedule at the last minute and often shorting shifts. I have to pay for public transit to work whether it's for three hours or six hours. I have to pay for babysitting for my evening job, which sometimes costs more than what I earn. I am trying to breastfeed my baby and one employer will accommodate pumping at work but the other won't, so often I don't eat during my break so I can pump. I don't know my work schedule until it is posted on a Sunday. I have missed several well baby checkups because both employers will not accommodate my time-off requests for medical appointments ahead of time.  I feel overwhelmed most of the time but I will keep trying to be a good mom."

Unfortunately, the side effect of new scheduling systems has been to leave workers without much advance notice of their schedules, which has a disproportionate impact on women who are pregnant or have infants — right when they need access to stable medical care the most. Moms and dads who don't know when they will work from one week to the next aren't able to plan regular medical visits for their children, because they are forced to choose between picking up a shift at work and keeping a doctor's appointment.

We owe it to Philadelphia's moms and to the kids who make up our city's future to ensure that they have the best chances at success. Passing sensible "Fair Workweek" legislation in the fall will give more working moms the ability to maintain their health, and their children's health. I commend Councilwomen Gym, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, and Jannie Blackwell, and Councilmen William Greenlee, Curtis Jones Jr., Bobby Henon and Mark Squilla for the vision they have shown in introducing this bill, and urge the rest of Council to support it.

Rosemarie Halt is the senior director of policy for the Maternity Care Coalition.

Give shift-bound workers a break: predictable schedules

June 29, 2018

Parents shouldn't have to choose between unpredictable work schedules and taking care of their children. But too many do.

Take the single father of a boy with behavioral issues. He dutifully scheduled his son's doctor's appointments so his son wouldn't miss school and he wouldn't miss work. But the father often got called in to his part-time job without notice and had to make the untenable choice of losing his job or taking care of his son. He took care of his son. He lost his job.

His story is too common, according to Community Legal Services attorney Nadia Hewka.

Unpredictable work schedules also keep low-wage, part-time workers from writing reasonable household budgets. Without knowing their work hours, employees don't know what their weekly paycheck will be and how much money they'll have to pay the bills. They can't schedule child care, a second job, or the rest of their lives around work if they don't even know when they'll be called in. That's an unreasonable demand on the working poor, who are already struggling to survive.

According to University of California researchers who  studied Philadelphia's shift-bound workforce, about 77 percent of employees want predictable work schedules and 74 percent want more hours.

This month, City Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced a work schedule bill that would require big chain retailers and restaurants to give workers two weeks' notice of their schedules and pay employees when scheduled shifts are canceled. That would be a step forward for people trying to get their lives and finances under control.

There are 130,000 part-time retail and restaurant workers across the city, and this bill would only affect the lucky ones who work for big chains. Some chains already are providing workers predictable schedules in Seattle, New York and San Francisco, which have fair work schedule ordinances.

But speaking at an informational hearing on the bill in March, Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, warned Council not to usurp the role of human resource departments, but rather to listen to business' side of the story. He's right about that, and over Council's summer break, he's got the time to line up a helpful response from the business community.

Gym also has some work ahead this summer. Her bill has seven co-sponsors and she'll need nine votes to pass it.

But those on the fence should understand that this is not an unfair burden on business. According to Wendell Young IV, head of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, larger companies already use predictive scheduling software to schedule workers based on expected sales volume. The Gap implemented stable scheduling in 19 stores in the Chicago and San Francisco areas and  increased sales revenue by 7 percent between November 2015 and August 2016. Researchers found that sales were up because predictable schedules lowered the turnover rate of experienced, productive employees.

Gym's bill is just smart business. So, too, is having a workforce that isn't frustrated and stressed out about child care and paying the bills.

Employees and business profit from predictable scheduling

JUNE 27, 2018

Many of us enjoy the ability to do our work how and when it best fits into our lives. Recent studies have highlighted workplace flexibility for women as essential to employee retention and productivity. While we are delighted to see an increased focus on creating better jobs and working conditions, both these studies and the public conversation focus on white-collar, college-educated women.

Workplace flexibility means something completely different for the millions of people in low-paid, hourly jobs, who are disproportionately women and women of color. With their ever-changing work schedules and lack of control over when and how much they work, their jobs—and lives—are not flexible, but merely unpredictable. It hurts these workers' ability to budget their time and money, to secure reliable child care, and to go to school or train for better jobs. It's why we need Chicago's City Council to pass the amended Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance being introduced today.

Two recent local studies looked into the scope of these practices and how they impact both families and businesses. A survey by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign of more than 1,700 Illinois workers found that 40 percent do not get any minimum hours guarantee and are occasionally required to be on call for work, and 58 percent of workers are sent home before their shift ends. These practices interfered with child care, parenting or caregiving for 40 percent of workers. In addition, more than half of those enrolled in educational programming missed classes due to their unpredictable work schedules. Almost 17 percent paid their rent or mortgage late or lost their housing because their fluctuating schedule yielded a smaller paycheck.

While the negative impact of unstable scheduling on families is profound, the University of Chicago found that stable scheduling practices were actually good for business. They partnered with the Gap to assess the impact of various scheduling practices and found that giving workers their schedules two weeks in advance and eliminating on-call schedules led to a 5 percent increase in labor productivity—double the annual average. It also led to a 7 percent increase in sales, substantially exceeding typical desired growth.

The proposed ordinance will not prevent employers from using flexible scheduling. The proposed ordinance requires employees to give workers with variable schedules at least two weeks' notice of when they will be working so they can anticipate their income and budget for basic expenses like food, as well as meet other responsibilities like attending school or arranging childcare.

The ordinance also prevents employers from canceling or reducing shifts after the employee has reported to work by ensuring the employee receives some compensation. While businesses would incur some cost, currently workers and their families are alone bearing the burden. In addition, stable and predictable schedules are associated with reduced employee turnover, a cost savings for employers.

We encourage businesses to adopt fair scheduling practices that offer a win-win for both them and their employees.

Sharmili Majmudar is interim chief executive of Women Employed.

Retail workers say they’re under pressure to get your emails

June 21, 2018

For the retail industry, customer emails are currency.

Get that address, and a company can personalize customers' future experiences, targeting them for discounts and promotions that could make them more likely to become repeat customers.

The responsibility to capture those emails often falls to the sales associates working the floor. In fact, collecting emails and signing customers up for loyalty programs is a big part of those jobs now, said Jill Dvorak, senior director of digital retail for the National Retail Foundation.

But workers at Five Below, the Philly-based national discount chain that's made headlines for thriving in the age of Amazon, say there are consequences when they don't. They're told email collection affects how many hours they get each week.

Tiffany Rogers, a recent Parkway Center City Middle College graduate who worked at the Five Below on Columbus Boulevard for five months, said she was told she had to get emails from 25 percent of the customers she rang up.

>> READ MORE: The nationwide workers' fight against unpredictable hours has hit Philadelphia

In February, after watching her hours dwindle from more than 20 a week during the holiday season to 10 to 14 after New Year's, she got scheduled for just four hours two weeks in a row. When she asked her manager about it, he told her it was because she wasn't getting enough emails.

"You have to get the emails," Rogers said her manager told her.

It wasn't easy. These were people who were buying a slime kit or a bag of sour gummy worms for a few bucks and they'd usually get defensive. What do you need my email for? they'd ask. She didn't actually know. It was never explained to her.

Sometimes, out of desperation, her coworkers would make up emails just to satisfy their bosses, but she was afraid she'd get in trouble if she was discovered.

Five Below workers across the country who posted on job review sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed had similar accounts, some saying their ability to get a raise was also tied to their ability to get emails.

"You have to get at least 20 percent in e-mails every week and sometimes [it] can be difficult because a lot of customers want to get in and get out or consider Five Below e-mails spam," wrote one former employee in Columbus, Ohio, who otherwise rated the job with five stars last December. "Sometimes one of our shifts would get taken if we didn't hit 20 percent."

A former manager in Hopkinsville, Ky., wrote in April: "You have to obtain e-mails from customers and if you don't they hound you to the point of quitting."

Five Below marketing manager Dana Zuppo said there is no email quota for cashiers, nor are there incentives for workers to collect emails.

"The email ask at the register," she said, "is simply to benefit the customer, allowing them to stay in tune with the brand."

In a recent earnings call, the same day Five Below's stock rose to nearly $100 a share, the highest it has been since it went public in 2012, CEO Joel Anderson said a new point-of-sale system would begin to hit its more than 650 stores later this year. It's one that "provides the functionality and flexibility" for such features as a loyalty program. (Some in the industry recommend using email receipts or digital payments in order to more easily sign customers up for promotions at the point-of-sale.)

Dvorak of the National Retail Foundation said she hadn't heard of retailers using email quotas, but, "if they are out there, hopefully they're emphasizing quality and interest."

She pointed out that email collection is about quality over quantity — they're only valuable if they result in customers making follow-up purchases.

She advises giving customers incentives: Offer a newsletter that will include exclusive promotions for a specific zip code or a discount for signing up. And, she said, it's also important to train your workers to know when and how to ask, so it's done in a respectful way that will make customers more likely to give their emails.

When it comes down to it, retail workers often complain about unrealistic job demands because they fear they'll be fired, said Chelsea Connor of the New York-based Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store International Union. This lack of worker protections is one reason organizations such as OnePA are advocating for a "fair workweek" law that will regulate how retail companies schedule their employees.

"You're effectively measuring someone's success on someone's willingness to give over their personal data," Connor said. "That doesn't make sense."

Council considers fair workweek standards for some employees

JUNE 15, 2018

Low-wage workers in the retail, food service, and hospitality industries in Philadelphia may soon have more security when it comes to their schedules and paychecks.

Fair workweek legislation was unveiled on Thursday that could provide these benefits and more to an estimated 130,000 hourly workers employed at certain businesses.

While flanked by more than three dozen supporters, Councilwoman Helen Gym said the legislation was in response to the failures at the state and federal levels to pass common sense business practices in order to reduce poverty.

“This bill is about standards of dignity,” she said.

The legislation would require businesses with at least 250 employees and 20 locations to provide the following to their employees:

Advanced notice of schedules;

A pathway to access more hours of work;

Compensation for last-minute schedule changes; and

Protection from retaliation.

A report last year found that 79 percent of Philadelphia’s hourly workers in the retail and restaurant sectors do not have a regular work schedule, and 45 percent cannot predict their monthly incomes.

Fair workweek standards are in effect in 15 other municipalities and states, including New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Oregon. Philadelphia already has a paid sick leave requirement in effect for some workers.

Groups supporting the legislation included the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, Black Clergy of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO, all of whom attended the unveiling of the legislation inside the City Council chamber.

But the proposal has its detractors.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia panned the legislation in a released statement as a rigid mandate that would restrict and discourage economic growth, as well as harm employees.

“This legislation is totally at odds with what our modern citizens expect from their employers: flexibility,” said the organization, which represents thousands of businesses and companies in three states.

The Chamber of Commerce said the changes also would lead to a reduction in hours for employees, discourage businesses from opening in Philadelphia, and penalize employers who make last-minute changes to employee schedules.

Although Gym introduced the legislation on Thursday, she did not expect the City Council to take it back up until the fall when the chamber returns from summer recess.

Questions remain whether the legislation will eventually become law. The legislation currently has eight sponsors.

Among the sponsors is Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, who is herself a former retail worker. She said workers shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and taking care of their children or family, or worry about retaliation from employers in the form of reduced hours.

“Workers, hard-working people — our service workers, our retail workers — deserve more respect,” Quiñones Sánchez said.

The legislation is about fairness, Councilman William Greenlee said.

“We’re going to hear, as we hear on many other issues, that is an anti-business legislation: No it’s not,” he said. “Because when you’re pro worker, you’re pro business.”

Workers Making Progress on Fair Scheduling Rights in Cities

JUNE 15, 2018

ymphony Hurst is a proud mother, but she has occasionally found herself withholding that fact from her employers.


Hurst, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and now lives in the Overbrook section, has a four-year-old daughter and works in retail — formerly Macy’s, now Starbucks. Like thousands of other retail workers, she’s had to hustle to get enough hours to pay the bills. At Macy’s, when her schedule was light, she would scramble to pick up extra shifts from co-workers — any that were available, often back-to-back with scheduled hours, which varied from week to week. Later, when she worked at the Starbucks at La Salle University (managed by Aramark, a local Philadelphia company), it was much the same: Odd hours, often not enough of them, often posted on the schedule last minute with barely any time to plan ahead.

“If I didn’t have enough money for childcare on a certain day, I couldn’t go to work, which obviously made the problem worse,” Hurst told reporters at press conference in Philadelphia’s city council chambers on Thursday.

Her voice cracked when she said that she had sometimes resorted to avoid telling potential employers she had a child, fearing that they would assume she couldn’t handle a full-time workload.

Hurst now works in the Starbucks at Philadelphia International Airport. It’s a union job, with a schedule and income that’s more predictable than she’s had before. She knows from week to week that she’ll be able to buy groceries and pay for childcare.

“It’s my first job ever with steady hours,” Hurst tells Next City after the press conference.

Hurst, a member of the One Pennsylvania coalition, joined other advocates and union leaders at Philadelphia City Hall on Thursday to help announce the introduction of fair workweek legislation. The bill would require chains with at least 250 employees and 20 locations to provide employees with a “good faith” estimate of their weekly workload upon hiring, and two weeks’ advance notice of schedules thereafter. It would also require compensation for last-minute schedule cuts, and prevent employers from cutting workers’ hours in retaliation for calling out for appointments and other obligations. And it would require employers to offer extra shifts to existing employees before bringing in outside applicants.

Around 130,000 hourly workers in the city would benefit from the fair work week protections, according to the bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Helen Gym.

“We’re tired of waiting on benevolence and goodwill,” Gym said at the press conference. “We’re tired of waiting for promises that never seem to happen from those who are most able to give. We are tired of waiting for the state and federal government to recognize our humanity and to recognize common sense business practices. This bill is about standards and dignity.”

The legislation is part of a nationwide trend of fairwork week policies that seek to stabilize work for low-wage and hourly employees. Research has shown that unpredictable work schedules are harmful to employee health and well-being. Recent studies also suggest that businesses actually benefit from providing more stable schedules for their workers.

Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have begun advancing legislation requiring advance notice for schedules, predictable weekly workloads, extra pay for on-call shifts or last-minute shift cancellations, and minimum rest times between shifts.

Seattle passed a secure scheduling policy in 2016 that requires advance notice of schedules and compensation for canceled shifts, among other provisions. Seattle Councilmember Lorena González, who helped spearhead the effort, says it took nine months of negotiations between various stakeholders to get the policy passed.

“We had a general sense of what the policy goals were, and what we did in Seattle was set up a process to allow us to engage people, both workers and businesses, to really figure out what the mechanisms would be,” González says.

Initially, González says that she and her colleagues wanted to include all full-service restaurants in the policy. But eventually the council focused on businesses with at least 500 employees, which was where González says they were hearing clear evidence about problems with scheduling.

It’s important for cities considering fair workweek policies to talk with business owners to talk about “operational concerns,” to dedicate resources to help educate both employers and workers about the new policies, and to enforce them, González says. The policy was enacted last summer.

“Here in Seattle, it has not impacted our economy,” González says. “We continue to see dozens of restaurants open a month in our city. We see retail doing very well in our city. And I think it’s because when we treat workers well, businesses reap the benefits of that positive workplace culture.”

Meanwhile in New York City, Councilmember Brad Lander says that he and his colleagues began talking about fair workweek policies around the time that Mayor Bill de Blasio first came into office, in 2013.

In addition to passing bills requiring advance notice for schedules and restricting “clopenings,” a term referring to the practice of scheduling two shifts for an employee fewer than 11 hours apart, New York City passed a law allowing hourly workers to organize nonprofit organizations and dedicate a portion of their payroll to them. The organizations are meant to function sort of like para-unions, enabling fast-food and retail workers to organize and advocate for better policies across the sector even without formally recognized collective-bargaining rights. Organized advocacy by workers made the city council’s work in passing all of the laws easier, Lander says.

“There was meaningful opposition [from the business community], but I think the fact that the case was built well, that workers showed up and talked about why it mattered, and that it is just such a sympathetic issue helped us feel confident throughout the process that we would be able to pass it,” Lander says.

Lander says that New York City was able to learn from both San Francisco and Seattle as his colleagues put its fair workweek bills together. Other cities should be encouraged by policies that are taking effect around the country without causing major problems for businesses, he says.

“It is definitely important to meet with and listen to employers, but I guess I would say, for where those employers push back, fast-food franchises in Seattle and San Francisco and Emeryville [Calif.] and New York City are all complying with this bill with no problems whatsoever,” Lander says. “The sky does not fall. People can get still get their Big Macs and Dunkin’ Donuts. We haven’t seen price increases. We haven’t seen any closures. What we have seen is workers who have stable lives and a path to full-time jobs. So listen, but don’t be cowed by sky-is-falling opposition.”

In Philadelphia, the Chamber of Commerce has already announced its concerns about the fair workweek legislation, calling it “yet another anti-growth out of sync initiative introduced in City Council.” The Chamber says the bill is at odds with the “flexibility” that modern workers and employers want.

Gym responded to the Chamber’s letter with a statement saying that unstable schedules only benefit corporations, not workers, but cited a study suggesting that stable schedules not only benefit workers’ wellbeing but increase profits and reduce turnover.

“We believe Councilwoman Gym is coming from a positive place and wants to help Philadelphia’s workers, many of whom are working at or slightly above minimum wage and relying on these jobs to support their families,” says Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney. “We look forward to working with Councilwoman Gym and other members of Council in the upcoming months to ensure this legislation is given the time and attention required to make sure the input of all parties is considered, and that Philadelphia residents are afforded much-needed protections without negatively impacting our businesses.”

Next City is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Read more at https://brokeinphilly.org and follow us on Twitter @BrokeInPhilly.

Philadelphia Hopes to Become Next Major City to Pass Fair Workweek Legislation

Published at 11:55 AM EDT on Jun 14, 2018 | Updated at 2:18 PM EDT on Jun 14, 2018

NBC10 is one of 19 news organizations producing BROKE in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.


For nearly three years, David Smith’s retail job provided a stable enough income for him to pay rent, child support and feed his family.

But when his 40 hours per week were unexpectedly cut down to 24 hours, things started to fall apart, he said.

“I’m facing eviction,” he told NBC10. “I’ve been in retail for 15 years. This, by far, was the worse I have ever dealt with.”

Smith, who is 50 years old, is just one of 130,000 service workers in Philadelphia, at least a quarter of which work part-time, according to the 2015 U.S. Census. Many of these retail and service industry employees face unpredictable schedules that change as often as the seasons.

On Thursday, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced legislation to curb some of this uncertainty. The fair workweek ordinance would require a reasonable notice of schedules, at least 11 hours rest time between shifts, opportunities to work additional hours and provide for enforcement and penalties if an employer does not comply.

“Today is about not looking the other way,” Gym said. “This bill is about standards of dignity.”

The bill has seven cosponsors, including Democratic councilmembers Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District), Mark Squilla (1st District), Bill Greenlee (At Large), Bobby Henon (6th District), Jannie Blackwell (3rd District), Curtis Jones (4th District) and Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District).

The ordinance would specifically target large chain businesses in the retail, food or hospitality sectors that employ a minimum of 250 people and have at least 20 locations across the country or state.

It is part of a larger, nationwide effort that has already been introduced in San Francisco, Seattle and New York. Those cities passed similar legislation after increasing their minimum wage. Adding fair workweek standards was the logical next step, according to Rachel Deutsch, senior staff attorney for worker justice at the Center for Popular Democracy.

“Some companies are stuck in this philosophy that labor is the most malleable cost,” she said. “But there has been a ton of data that shows there are hidden costs to this business model that treat workers as disposable.”

One such study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley examined hourly employees at Gap clothing stores in Chicago and the Bay Area. The study randomly assigned two-thirds of stores to consistent schedules and one-third of stores to their regularly shifting schedules. Researchers concluded that sales were higher at stores where shifts largely remained stable from week to week.

Those same researchers also found, in a separate study, that many of Philadelphia's hourly wage workers experienced up to a 14-hour difference in schedules from week to week. More than 75 percent of employees surveyed wanted a more predictable scheduled, according to the study. 

"The portrait of Philadelphia service sector workers reveals that unstable and unpredictable schedules are the norm," the researchers concluded. "As we have seen nationally, the retail and food sectors in Philadelphia are characterized by low pay, insufficient work hours, and a lack of control over scheduled work hours."

But Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, which opposed Gym’s bill before it was even introduced, called the legislation “yet another anti-growth out of sync initiative introduced in city council.”

“Under the guise of improving worker flexibility, this copycat legislation hurts the very industries where we are seeing growth—the very industries that have put Philadelphia on national and international business site selection lists and travel and tourism lists,” the Chamber of Commerce said in an emailed statement.

Smith, who worked at one of the largest retailers in the nation for four years, said sudden schedule shifts resulted in low morale and eventually led to him quitting his job. He also said that the local human resources department failed to properly handle a complaint he made regarding racist comments overheard on the store’s loud speaker.

Smith’s team leader told him that his hours had been cut back because the holiday season ended. Extra workers were not needed. However, Smith noticed that new, part-time employees were being still hired, he said. It felt like retaliation.

“I want them to, first and foremost, have some respect ... for their employees because they are the backbone,” Smith said. “They try to say it’s mostly college students, but I worked with people that are 70 years old and are veterans. They are trying to provide for their families.”

In 2014, San Francisco became the first major city to pass fair workweek legislation. Seattle, New York City and the entire state of Oregon followed.

New York’s bill came on the heels of the city passing a $15 living wage, which will go into effect next year. Like Philadelphia, the majority of New York’s hourly workers were struggling to make ends meet. The problem with unpredictable schedules is “income volatility,” a leading driver of poverty, Deutsch said.

“You don’t know if you’re going to pay rent the next week,” she said. “Sometimes, people get thrown off [assistance] vouchers if their hours shift. Or retail employees work a lot during holidays and then drop off in January and suddenly can’t afford child care.”

Philadelphia has already passed legislation aimed at creating a more stable work environment for residents. In 2014, Philadelphia passed a bill requiring that city contractors receive at least $12 an hour. Then, in 2015, the city passed a mandatory paid sick-leave bill.

Philadelphia's fair workweek bill will likely go to vote when city council resumes in the fall.

Philadelphia could become the next city to pass a scheduling law for retail and fast-food companies

JUNE 14, 2018

Across the country, retail and fast-food employees have said that unpredictable work schedules, the kind churned out by computer programs, wreak havoc on their lives.

They don’t know how many hours they’re going to get each week, so they don’t know how much money they’re going to make. Inconsistent hours make it impossible to plan for child care or classes or other part-time jobs. And often, they want to work more hours but can’t get them.

Advocates have branded the issue as the fight for a “fair workweek,” and such cities as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have all passed laws to tackle these issues. Now, lawmakers in Philadelphia, where the retail and hospitality industry is responsible for nearly one-fifth of jobs, have made the first step to do the same.

Councilwoman Helen Gym, along with three other Council members, is scheduled to introduce a bill Thursday that requires fast-food and retail employers to:

  • Give at least two weeks’ notice of schedules.

  • Offer hours to existing employees when they become available instead of hiring new employees at a lower rate.

  • Pay employees when shifts are canceled.

The bill, which is similar to what other cities and states have passed, is another example of Philadelphia city government developing protections for local workers in the form of regulations on businesses. City Hall has seen mixed success: Council passed in 2015 a mandatory paid sick-leave bill and in 2014 a requirement that city contractors pay workers $12 an hour. In another example, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit over Council’s 2016 “wage equity” law that bars employers from asking about salary history, and its enforcement is still uncertain.

The Chamber declined to comment until it saw the workweek bill’s details, but in an open letter to City Council sent last week, it said it opposed “pending legislation that proposes to impose predictable scheduling formulas onto unpredictable business environments.”

At a City Council hearing in March on the issue, Chamber CEO Rob Wonderling decried what he said was “a very interesting pattern emerging in the city of Philadelphia” in which Council was making city government act as a human resources department for local companies. He urged Council to consider how it would impact small companies — 85 percent of the chamber’s members have fewer than 100 employees — and not just the big-box retailers.

Representatives from retail and food service associations, such as David French, senior vice president for government relations of the National Retail Federation, say laws like this don’t reflect the fact that people choose these industries because of their flexibility.

That doesn’t square with the experience of Tori Price, who used to work at the Target at 12th and Chestnut to help support her mother and siblings. “There’s no way to support a family of seven or do any financial planning when my hours range constantly from 20 to 35 hours per week,” the 19-year-old West Philadelphian said in written testimony at the March hearing. She was called in to work that day so couldn’t attend the hearing in person. “We have an eviction notice on our house, but I don’t even know what rent I can afford, so how can I look for a new apartment?”

Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said that a scheduling law would hurt a company’s bottom line.

Gym said the law would be good for business, too, pointing to research that showed that more consistent scheduling led to higher productivity and sales.

That other cities have passed similar laws helps, she added, because national chains have had to adjust.

“They’re already doing this work in New York City and Seattle,” Gym said. “There’s no reason they can’t do it here in Philadelphia.”

City Council is set to break for the summer in a few weeks. Gym spokeswoman Melissa McCleery said the councilwoman was introducing the bill now so it could be a top priority when Council reconvenes.

Living Paycheck to Paycheck, and Hour to Hour

JUNE 11, 2018

A new survey finds that service workers in Connecticut are hungry for more hours, and for more predictable schedules.

When Lexii Evans, a retail worker in Hartford, Connecticut, was faced with the choice between finishing community college or working, she reluctantly chose the latter—and delayed graduation. The decision wasn’t an easy one, but it was getting harder to juggle work and school. Some days, she’d get asked to take an unexpected shift, missing classes or keeping her from finishing homework. It wasn’t that her hours were long—it’s that they were never consistent.

Evans’ story is unique, but she is one of thousands of retail and food service workers in Connecticut and across the country who are subject to “on-call scheduling”—their shifts can vary wildly by length each week, or be changed at the last minute. It’s an employment situation that can play hell with workers’ home lives and career aspirations: To accommodate the unpredictable whims of their employers, they might avoid signing up for college classes, or other job shifts; parents must scramble to hire babysitters or rely on family and friends to fill childcare gaps that suddenly crop up.

“It shouldn’t take me three years to graduate from a two-year college,” Evans said. “I want to be great, but I can’t be great and work part-time and be on call.”

It’s an increasingly common fact of life for low-wage service workers. National labor statistics data published in support of as-of-yet unsuccessful federal Fair Scheduling legislation indicates that “66 percent of food service workers, 52 percent of retail workers, and 40 percent of janitors and housekeepers know their schedules only a week or less in advance.” Each month, the variation in hours swings wildly: for food service workers, by 70 percent; for retail workers, 50 percent; and for janitors and housekeepers, 40 percent. Together, those groups make up 18 percent of the economy.

With unemployment rates at a 17-year low, service industry workers can indeed secure a job in this economy, but many must work multiple positions to earn a living wage. And with on-call scheduling, instability—surrounding paychecks, time, and quality of life—persists even once jobs are secured.

In a research brief published in March, UC Berkeley sociologist Daniel Schneider and UC San Francisco sociologist Kristen Harknett surveyed 438 of Connecticut’s 250,000 service sector workers and found that 25 percent of workers reported having on-call hours. But almost 66 percent overall describe their work schedules as “irregular” or “variable,” and many others reported “rotating” or “split” shifts, or regularly irregular nighttime hours—schedules that don’t fit the strict definition of “on-call,” but that result in similar instabilities. Another 66 percent said they keep their schedules “open and available” to fill a shift at a moment’s notice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost three quarters of all workers craved more stability and predictability in their work schedules.

More state-level reports are scheduled to appear out of Berkeley later this year, as part of Schneider and Harknett’s national Shift project, surveying the breadth and scope of the issue. (Spoiler alert, it’s wide and deep: Based on estimates drawn from thousands of interviews, Schneider says that the 25 percent of Connecticut workers who are on-call scales up to the entire country, with only small state-level variations.)

This constellation of local legislation is meant to “raise the floor” on low-wage jobs in a time of unprecedented inequality.

The researchers expedited the publication date on Connecticut’s report to bolster the case for a bill that would have limited on-call scheduling throughout the state. Proposed for the second time this year, SB 321, “An Act to Stabilize Working Families by Limiting On-Call Scheduling,” called on Connecticut businesses to give workers 24 hours notice before calling them into work, and to pay them for half of the lost hours if a shift is cancelled. It was voted down in March.

The fair scheduling fight is a relatively new front in the broader battle to beef up labor rights ignited by the “Fight for $15” movement over minimum wage, which has expanded to include organizing around paid sick time and paid parental leave policies. Though there has been a “Schedules at Work Act” floated at the federal level, it’s cities and states that have taken the lead on passing (or killing) regulation around employee scheduling. This constellation of local legislation is meant to “raise the floor” on low-wage jobs in a time of unprecedented inequality—and reduce the instability associated with living paycheck to paycheck, and hour to hour.

So far, the impact of these regulations have not yet been measured comprehensively. In Seattle, the city council unanimously adopted a Secure Scheduling ordinance in 2016, requiring that businesses with 500 or more employees release schedules 14 days in advance, and that if employees are sent home early from a scheduled shift, they’re paid for half of the hours not worked. In New York City, Fair Workweek Laws passed in 2017 include a ban on on-call shifts with less than 72 hours advance notice for retail workers and a requirement that fast food workers be given a “good-faith” schedule two weeks in advance. Oregon became the first state to require employers to give a full week’s advance scheduling notice last year.

Outside of state legislative efforts, some retailers are adopting on-call bans piecemeal. In 2016, under pressure from attorneys general from eight states and D.C., six major retailers (including Disney and Pacsun) stopped using on-call shifts for their 50,000-some workers. And after conducting a 2015 pilot at three San Francisco locations, all Gap stores eliminated on-call scheduling, too, and now give workers two weeks advance notice on schedules.

A state-level on-call scheduling ban would have made an especially large impact in Connecticut, a state of wide economic disparities: It’s got the richest residents per capita, and the largest gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99. After the Great Recession, corporations started leaving (and are leaving still). The finance and insurance industries swooped in to rebuild the state’s economy, and with them came a burgeoning service industry. “The state of Connecticut has actually driven its growth out of the recession through the efforts on the backs of people earning poverty wages,” said Carlos Moreno, the state director of Connecticut’s Working Family Organization. “We have a low-wage economic boom happening here in Connecticut, and what it really amounts to is like modern-day slave wage labor.”

The bill was championed by State Senator Marilyn Moore, a Democrat who experienced first-hand the whiplash of irregular scheduling when she took a job at a Target in Trumbull, Connecticut, during the Senate’s off-season. “When you don’t have to walk that path you might think, people must be making this up or they’re exaggerating,” Moore told CityLab. “But you cancel the shift of a person who’s low income, who has children, it changes their whole budget, it changes what they can buy in a grocery store. It has greater impact than what [state senators] who have these incomes can even imagine.”

Stiff resistance to fair scheduling legislation has come from industry groups. “[On-call scheduling] is only used in circumstances in which employees agree to be available for extra shifts on an on-call basis,” Scott Fanning, president of the Connecticut Franchise Association, told the Connecticut Post. Also lining up against the proposed Connecticut bill was the Connecticut Conference for Municipalities; in a statement, the group argued, “These new mandates are impractical and would limit the flexibility needed by local officials to meet the constantly changing needs of municipalities.”

For many employers, on-call scheduling—often orchestrated via software that can predict staffing needs—is part of a broader strategy to manage labor costs as tightly as possible, says Schneider. “Rather than running the risk of having a few people working when demand isn’t exactly aligned with staffing, employers transfer that payroll risk to others.”

Opponents of limits to on-call scheduling also argue that such legislation would hinder opportunities for retail workers like college students trying to pick up occasional shifts to earn spending cash. The Berkeley report, however, found that one third of Connecticut retail workers in the sample surveyed were living with children, many of them single parents, which Moreno takes as evidence that the problem has a more substantial impact on older families. “The folks that rely on these jobs rely on that income to actually pay their bills—it’s not disposable income,” said Moreno. “These are folks that are trying to keep a roof over their heads.”

And for workers on this schedule, it’s impossible to know how incomes will fluctuate week over week. “It could be a hundred bucks, and then it could be $400 the next,” said Moreno. “And you really can’t plan accordingly for your bills, much less for your future, in terms of going to school or having a family.”

Aldermen, Labor Renew Push for Fair Work Week Ordinance

MAY 10, 2018

Armed with a new study that shows the devastating impact of “just-in-time scheduling,” a coalition of alderman and union leaders on Thursday made a renewed push for a “fair work-week” they called a “basic human rights issue.”

The City Council has approved three ordinances over the last five years aimed at confronting income inequality in Chicago.

They are: the anti-wage theft ordinance of 2013; the 2014 ordinance that raised Chicago’s minimum wage to $13-an-hour by 2019 and the ordinance mandating companies large and small – with the exception of construction companies – to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days each year.

But until workers have stable schedules — or guaranteed compensation if they don’t — the City Council’s “work is not done,” according to retiring Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

Pawar pointed to a survey of 1,700 workers across the state, 44 percent of them in Chicago, conducted by the University of Illinois and Penn State University.

One of every five hourly workers reported being scheduled for on-call shifts “regularly or often.”

Thirty-five percent of all workers have less than one week’s advance notice of their schedule, with 22 percent having three days or fewer notice. More than 25 percent of those surveyed are required to keep their schedules “open” with no guarantee of work.

Nearly 20 percent receive their work schedules, only after traveling to their workplaces.

“Imagine what it’s like not knowing whether you have to work in two hours. Imagine what it’s like not knowing what your schedule is like until the day before the week begins. Imagine what it’s like not knowing how you would arrange for child care if you’re working 12-to-8 on one day and 7-to-3 the next,” Pawar told a City Hall news conference.

“This is a basic human rights issue. Just as we raised wages, just as we guaranteed protections so they can call in sick, this is yet another protection we need to provide as the economy has changed dramatically [and] as employers rely increasingly on technology….Their lives should not be subject to the whims of an algorithm.”

Teresa Ramirez, a union representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, told a gut-wrenching story of a single mom on a scheduling string who was reduced to tears because she couldn’t attend the ceremony where her son was recognized for being an honor student.

“Not only that. She can’t be involved in her kid’s life. He’s in sports. She can’t commit to that. She may go. She may not go. Field trips at school. Even herself. She couldn’t finish her school because…she doesn’t know if they’re gonna call her,” Ramirez said.

“Her life is on hold for this. She needs the money to pay her rent….[But] she’ll get two hours notice. Sometimes, [they’ll say], ‘Could you come in right now as soon as possible.’ She doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.”

The ordinance introduced last summer and buried in Rules Committee would require Chicago employers to give workers two weeks notice of their work schedules and compensation for last-minute shift changes. Exceptions would be made for weather emergencies, equipment breakdowns or other disasters.

Part-time workers would get the opportunity to work additional hours before new staff is hired.

Pawar likes the chances for passage with 17 co-signers, the mayoral and aldermanic election fast approaching and pressure mounting on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appease progressive voters.

But Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia urged the aldermen to go slow.

“With the minimum wage and property taxes going up and paid sick leave, too many mandates have been put on small business in the city. If we had another mandate, it would be devastating,” he said.

Toia argued that restaurants need flexible scheduling to avoid “massive hits to their bottom lines” caused by “weather, high-low demand pressures and other conditions not under a restaurant’s control.”

“The weather in Chicago changes at the drop of a dime. We love our nice weather. But what if we have people scheduled to work an outdoor café and it rains?” Toia said.

“We also love our sports. But, how can you schedule somebody to work two weeks out when you don’t know how deep the Cubs or the Hawks are gonna go into the playoffs?”

CT’s Working Families Will Have to Keep Waiting for a Fair Work Week

MAY 5, 2018

On Tuesday night —ironically on May Day— Democratic Senators Joan Hartley and Gayle Slossberg voted with Senate Republicans to kill the Fair Workweek bill: SB 318 “A Bill to Stabilize Working Families by Limiting On-Call Shift Scheduling.” Coming a mere week before Connecticut’s legislature adjourns on May 9, this vote all but guarantees that families experiencing the instability that comes with “just-in-time” work scheduling practices will not see any relief.

By protecting employees from being forced to be “on call” and available for shifts that often never materialize, and by guaranteeing partial compensation for unnecessary last-minute shift cancellations, SB 318 would have done just what its title suggests: help working people across the state who face work scheduling practices that leave them scrambling to meet their responsibilities to their families and their jobs.

People like certified nursing assistant Allison Jones, of Bristol, who in March explained to legislators how unpredictable work schedules took money out of her family’s pockets: “I’d go to work and my shift was cancelled, only to turn back home. But I still had to pay the babysitter. I couldn’t cancel the electric bill, or the doctor bill. But my job had the right to cancel me, so what could I do?”

Allison is one among hundreds of thousands of people —mostly women— working in retail stores, restaurants, hotels, nursing homes, and other low-paying service industries across Connecticut. Like Allison, many of these women have families to support. And far too many face the same challenges.

Survey findings released in April from researchers affiliated with UC Berkeley show that, among retail and food service workers in Connecticut, 85 percent have little to no input in their own work schedules, and a full two-thirds of these workers report that they regularly have to keep their schedules open and available for work that they have no guarantee of receiving. So it’s no surprise that close to three-quarters of the service sector workers surveyed want more stable and predictable work hours.

Almost three-quarters of these workers say their work schedules cause extra stress for their families and make it hard to meet their caregiving responsibilities. Their children pay a price, too. Research shows this kind of stress and instability can undermine young children’s well-being and development. Unstable and unpredictable work schedules also make it exceptionally hard to arrange and afford the high-quality child care that prepares children to succeed in school and enables parents to succeed at work.

Instead, parents dealing with last-minute work schedules often have to make last-minute child care arrangements—which can be “almost impossible,” as Val Crowley, who works in food service in North Stonington, explained in testimony: “As my employer adds more and more on-call shifts, I sometimes worry about . . . having to make the decision of whether to miss my shift, or go to work and then leave a child at home.”

When parents miss work because they were unable to arrange for appropriate child care, employers lose out, too. But providing more consistent hours and advance notice of work schedules makes it easier for employees to consistently come to work and focus on their jobs—creating stability and cost savings for business. And it can boost profitability as well: another new study, done in partnership with Gap, Inc., found that providing more stable work schedules for employees increased sales by 7 percent.

Major cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City have already acted to promote fairer work schedules for their residents, and the first statewide law will go into effect in Oregon this year. Stable and predictable work hours are good for working people, good for children, and good for business.

By voting down a bill that achieves these common-sense goals, a slim majority of Connecticut legislators failed to lead the way for New England states — and their constituents will pay the price.

Julie Vogtman is Director of Job Quality and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

Why Fair Scheduling Laws Will Be The New Minimum Wage Battle

MAY 04, 2018

In the summer of 2015, Marilyn Moore took a seasonal job at a local Target in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She told her new employer that she wanted to work at least 20 hours per week. Though she tried to use her previous experience in retail sales to negotiate for higher than $9.50 per hour, she was rebuked. Her first week on the job, she worked just eight hours. Talking with fellow new employees, she learned that none of them were offered even the minimum number of shifts they requested. At that rate, Moore realized, she would need at least two more jobs to pay her bills.

This is a common story among part-time shift workers. In Connecticut, for instance, 88% of service-sector workers are offered fewer than 40 hours a week at their job. Fifty-eight percent of those workers would like to work more hours. Around 66% of service-sector workers have to keep their schedules open for the possibility that they might work, only to never get a call from their employers, or see shifts disappear from their calendars if their bosses decide they’re not needed at the last minute. This creates instability, and hampers workers’ abilities to plan their days and arrange secondary employment to fill the holes created by their first job. While these numbers testify specifically to the situation in Connecticut, they gesture toward the reality of workers in all states.

Moore swiftly realized the reality of her new employment: In her first two weeks, she took home just $128.50. In order to adequately provide for a family of four, she would need to be earning $2,587.20 in that same time frame, but she never secured enough hours to come close to that total, nor was her schedule regular enough to allow her to look for a second job. But Moore, ultimately, was not dependent on this work for a living: She was actually one year into her first term as a Democratic state senator for Bridgeport, and wanted to gain an in-depth and empathetic understanding for what service workers endure in order to advocate more effectively on their behalf.

Part of Moore’s efforts have centered on calling for the passage of a fair workweek bill, which would outlaw on-call scheduling, the practice of employers keeping workers on the line for a potential shift without any guarantee of work, and frequently canceling shifts at the last minute with no compensation. A previous Fair Workweek bill failed to pass in 2015, but undeterred, she resurrected it and fought for it again this year.

The Fair Workweek bill was ultimately shot down in the Senate again on May 1, as the legislative session drew to a close. But the Connecticut Working Families Organization, which was pushing for the bill’s passage, will continue to do so next year following precedent sent by Oregon, which passed statewide fair workweek legislation last year, and a handful of cities including San Francisco and Seattle. As Connecticut was the first state to pass paid sick leave, a once-fringe measure that is now fairly ubiquitous, advocates are hopeful that the successful passage of fair workweek legislation in the state will signal a country-wide movement.


The practice of on-call scheduling came about in the 1990s, as companies largely shifted from paying their workers a fixed annual wage to paying them by the hour, and with lessening regularity. As companies gain access to software that predicts up-to-the-minute business-flow predictors, like traffic and weather, they can adjust their staffing needs to cut costs, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich writes. It’s common practice for employers to assign workers tentative shifts, then shoot a text to someone just minutes before they’re supposed to come in to say they’re not needed.

Companies often claim that abiding by fair scheduling principles will cost them both financially and logistically–it’s much easier to shuffle workers around shift schedules as if they were pieces on a chessboard, rather than to consider the actual implications of those moves. They often bristle at the requirement that they compensate hastily canceled shifts with some portion of the workers’ expected wages, and at the idea of fines for failing to provide their workers steady and predictable shifts.


For states like Connecticut, which in recent years renewed its efforts to attract new businesses to the state, there’s been pushback to the legislation. Corporate lobbyists maintain that paying workers better or advancing just scheduling practices will cause the state to lose its competitive edge in attracting companies, says Zack Campbell, media and outreach director for CT Working Families. “But we’re flipping the competitiveness angle,” Campbell says. “We won’t be competitive because we don’t give people enough opportunities, and because people who live here now can’t get ahead.”

Furthermore, research shows companies that implement fair scheduling practices see benefits to their bottom line. In 2015, the Gap rolled out a pilot program with 19 stores across the San Francisco and Chicago metro areas to test the effects of finalizing schedules two weeks in advance, and eliminating on-call scheduling. The stores that implemented these practices saw a 5% increase in labor productivity and a 7% increase in median sales over the study period–significant for an industry that considers increases of 1-2% progress. Over the 35-week period, the stores increased overall revenue for the Gap by $290,000. Gap has subsequently extended the policy to all its stores, and other major chain retailers, including Disney and PacSun, have done the same.

The findings from the Gap study testify to how fair scheduling practices could help companies by improving workforce morale, and commitment, and driving down time spent on last-minute scheduling changes. But these tactics also produce more intangible benefits for the local economies in which they’re implemented. “It’s Econ 101,” Campbell says. “Working people are the backbone of the economy, and there’s no flow of money if people can’t afford things.” Furthermore, workers are more likely to have to lean on services like SNAP and subsidized housing, which puts more pressure on government resources. These arguments mirror those used to support the $15 minimum wage, which will expand to 18 states this year. Working Families and other labor activist groups maintain that fair scheduling laws are necessary to support the achievements of a higher minimum wage, because even $15 an hour won’t do much when the hours are still well below regular.


Even though an estimated 17% of the working U.S. population faces unstable schedules, “people who aren’t directly affected by this issue often don’t see it,” Campbell says. Upon hearing stories from people like Lexii Evans, who lives in Hartford and has often been held overtime long enough at her shift job at a Nordstrom’s in West Hartford to miss her bus home, legislators often claim the stories are anecdotal and don’t represent a pervasive reality.

In response, researchers at U.C. Berkeley have undertaken a national research study aiming to quantify the extent of workplace practices like on-call scheduling and failure to compensate canceled shifts. The entire project, called Shift, will be released in the future, but the research team pre-published the Connecticut data when they recognized the momentum around the issue. The data will be helpful in advancing Fair Workweek legislation in the state. The numbers prove unequivocally that this is not an anecdotal issue: Over 80% of workers in the state report unstable scheduling, and the vast majority say it interferes with their ability to provide for their families financially and emotionally. Numbers like these will likely emerge from other states as the Berkeley researchers publish the data.

The Shift project will be crucial to informing the fair workweek fight going forward. “In a lot of states, there’s interest in this type of legislation, but they’re looking to other places to do it first,” Campbell says. If Connecticut can successfully translate this data into meaningful policy to correct it, other states might be encouraged to examine their own scheduling practices to do the same.

The real hope, Campbell says, is for this to become a federal issue–like the minimum wage, it’s certainly pervasive enough to merit a national solution. “We’re not in the right climate for that at the moment, though,” he says. But states, he adds, can continue to leverage the issue, and more companies should look to the example of the Gap and understand that this policy that helps their workers can ultimately help them.


Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.


Activists demand 'fair work week' legislation at City Hall

MAY 01, 2018 - 1:40 PM

Service workers and activists held a May Day protest at Philadelphia City Hall, demanding that City Council pass a bill to force employers to stabilize working conditions.

"We need a fair work week -- and we demand a fair work week," shouted activists. Demonstrators represented groups such as Philadelphia Student Union, Unite Here and One Pennsylvania -- and workers in retail, food and hospitality industries who say that unstable work schedules from week to week, less than full-time hours, and fear of retaliation are wreaking havoc on their lives.

"They expect us to live off of 20 hours a week or 30 hours a week," said Robb Kee, who works in the back room at the Target store on City Avenue. In his 20s, he says he's unable to go back to school and get his own place on the $11/hour job. He's hoping "fair work week" legislation will force big corporations to treat low-wage workers with respect.

"Our cities will be stronger when we can support our families," he said.

New York and San Francisco have passed policies that require employers to give advance notice of work schedules and off hours to current employees before hiring new staff.

Groups pushing for legislation limiting on call scheduling


HARTFORD - The Working Families Organization held another round table discussion urging the passing on new legislation limiting on-call workers here in the state.

Currently 66% of the state's work force has to be available on call, leaving unpredictable schedules and wages from week to week. This new legislation would be geared toward larger businesses and not small "mom and pop shops" according to the organization.

One of the major opponents, the CBIA, says these types of jobs are sometimes needed to run businesses and should not be limited here in the state. The working families organization is hoping to convince legislators to pass this legislation in the current session which ends on May 9th.

Check the full article with video here.

An on-call worker’s plight

POSTED ON: Apr 17, 2018 | Bill Shemansky

Late last year, I was excited about taking on a new job in the service industry. That excitement waned as a hidden truth exposed itself: I was required to work on-call.

This was stressful to my life, both financially and psychologically. I received a weekly schedule, but it was always subject to change. And, surely enough, it changed almost every week.

I would get a last-minute “hey, we need you” the evening before an unscheduled day. Or worse, I would wake up to a “we need you this morning” text and have to scramble. I became paranoid about sleeping in on days “off” because I was terrified of missing that possible text.

In a given week, I would have shifts canceled, new shifts thrown my way, and hours cut short at a whim.

There were several times I drove half an hour to work for a scheduled shift, only to get a last-second text in the parking lot, telling me to go back home. Not only was budgeting impossible, with no clue what my week-to-week income might be, but I was losing time, money, and opportunities because of schedule unpredictability.

I was lucky enough to have family and friends to keep me afloat. I can’t imagine doing it alone, let alone having to work a job like that as a parent.

On-call shifts for service workers are a recipe for disaster, and it’s time for our legislators to do the right thing. Let’s pass a fair workweek bill this year.

Taylor Biniarz


SW school referendums

In the 2004 election, our Board of Education included a $90-plus million referendum on razing and replacing our elementary schools. It was a presidential election year, and the referendum was defeated.

During the next four years the BOE had a consultant survey the town’s populace to see which of three alternatives we wanted: $25 million to recondition our elementary schools, another $90-plus million plan to partially raze and replace, or a $115-plus million plan to raze and replace all our elementary schools but the one that they would close.

The townspeople wanted the $25 million plan, but in 2008, another presidential election year, the BOE again ran the most expensive plan, which was defeated again.

Superintendent Kate Carter was charged to find a way to circumvent the popular will. The people don’t want to spend $115 million all at once, she said, but in three installments they would consent.

Then someone added a brilliant strategy consistent with Republican orthodoxy: Don’t run the referendums at election time. Run them the March following elections. I say Republican orthodoxy because diminishing turnout seems to be a strategy that Republicans turn to when they begin losing, though the U.S. Supreme Court has usually rejected it as undemocratic (small d).

South Windsor’s elected surrogates unanimously said so what.

The past two referendums were won in March after a November plenary election — with barely compliant statutory written notice the Friday before the vote — with just a 25 percent turnout each time and only 18 percent of total registered voters voting yes.

My taxes have tripled in the past 27 years, which is alright with me as long as we get something for the money. But our schools’ district performance index, a general measure of the quality of education, is only 77. The state’s accepted minimum is 75; we have barely passed.

Our problem isn’t the buildings. It’s the people inside and curricula and syllabi they use.

The third referendum should be held this November; we’ll all be voting.

If so, and if what I consider to be an invidious quest for dubious bragging rights prevails, I will concede to genuine popular consent.

However, if the next referendum is held next March or in 2019, well, so much for democracy.

Michael Wolf

South Windsor

Eastern version of California

Let me try to understand this. Our duly elected officials — politicians if you will — those who presumably are representing the rights and wishes of the majority of their constituents, are doing their best to undermine the rights and guarantees of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet at the same time they are attempting to decriminalize, and of course tax, the use of marijuana by legalizing the recreational use of the “gateway drug” — the first step to greater drug abuse.

Only in Connecticut, the eastern version of California. Long live the Constitution State.