A vote for Philly’s Fair Workweek legislation is a vote for decency

Too many people in this country have a big problem with the folks they consider the Other.

They're the folks who don't look like them, behave the way they would, think thoughts they agree with, or worship in ways they find familiar.

Over four obscene days in October, we saw the worst of what can happen when contempt for the Other overpowers reason, respect, and humanity.

The massacre of Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The mailing of pipe bombs all around the country. The murder of two shoppers in a Kentucky supermarket, just because they were black.

My social media feed has been jammed with exhortations to counter all that contempt with soul-restoring acts of civility and fairness in our own communities.

Be good to each other, they say. Be compassionate toward friend and stranger alike. It's the only way to embody the decency that Americans are supposed to be known for.

Well, allow me to get the Decency Train rolling.

There's a bill about to come up for a City Council vote that would go a long way toward dismantling indecent treatment of some of the most disrespected workers in the city: The 130,000 men and women who toil in Philadelphia's retail, food-service, and hotel industries.

It's called the Fair Workweek Scheduling bill. You'd take a giant leap for decency if you'd call your Council representative and ask him or her to vote it into law on Nov. 29, when the bill comes up for a vote before the full Council.

If passed, Fair Workweek would require companies with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations to give workers their schedules 10 days in advance, and pay them if changes are made after the fact.

It's the decent thing to do. How can anyone manage life without that kind of predictability?

Yet that's the reality for so many of Philly's retail and food-service employees, most of whom are among the working poor, earning minimum wage. They spend their shifts making our hotel beds, picking up the clothes we leave on the dressing-room floors of our stores, or bagging our burgers at fast-food places we hope our own kids will never have to work at.

Symphony Hurst, a 24-year-old single mom from Overbrook, is one of them. In the retail and food-service jobs she has held, she has never known definitively how many work hours she'd be given or on which days she'd work them.

So she couldn't accurately schedule day care for her daughter, Allena, 5, or even know whether she'd earn enough money that week to pay a sitter at all. She once lost her chance at full-time employment at a department store when her manager – who'd been impressed by Hurst's hustle and teamwork as a part-timer – went frosty when she learned Hurst was a mom.

Since then, when Hurst applies for a job, she says, "I try to withhold the fact that I'm a mother. When employers hear they have a mom employee, they side-eye her and assume that if they give her 30 or more hours a week, she won't come in because she has to take care of her child.

"But if moms like me got consistent hours, we could adequately plan for whatever may come up for our children."

She finally found consistent hours at a Starbucks at Philadelphia International Airport, where she currently works. But it should not have taken her years to find such reasonable accommodation. As she spoke, I thought of how frequently we demonize people like Hurst – young, unwed urban mothers – as lazy or irresponsible, or a drain on the taxes that harder-working folks pay to keep society afloat.

And yet there they are, trying like mad to create lives that will deny those stereotypes while the structure of their employment scheduling pretty much guarantees they'll fail. And so they stay mired in the 25 percent of Philadelphians who live in poverty – the highest rate for any American city.

That's not just indecent. It's cruel.

The Fair Workweek bill, if passed, will show 130,000 employees that they matter, they're needed, and they're worthy of the basic dignities their better-paid bosses enjoy: Respect for their time, regard for their circumstances and fair compensation when either is compromised.

Because Philadelphia's retail, hotel and food-service workers are not the Other. They're Us.

To learn more about the Fair Workweek Bill, click here.

To find the name and contact information for your City Council representative, click here. Urge members to vote on Nov. 29 to approve passage of the Fair Workweek bill 

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Posted: November 5, 2018 - 5:00 AM
Ronnie Polaneczky @RonniePhilly | polaner@phillynews.com

City Council votes to move 'fair workweek' scheduling bill forward

by Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Posted: October 30, 2018

The "Fair Workweek" scheduling bill for retail, fast-food, and hotel workers in Philadelphia got one step closer to becoming law Tuesday.

After a three-hour City Council hearing in a room that was filled to capacity with a sometimes rowdy crowd of workers and advocates, its Committee on Law and Government voted, 6-2, in favor of moving the law to a full Council vote, with Council Members David Oh and Brian O'Neill voting against it. The law proposes requiring companies with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations to give workers their schedules 10 days in advance, and pay them if changes are made after the fact. (An earlier version of the law listed two weeks' notice; the proposed 10 days for the first year of implementation was a last-minute amendment.)

Championed by advocates, union leaders, and researchers as a way for workers to gain more control over their lives and break out of a cycle of poverty, "Fair Workweek" laws have been implemented in such cities as San Francisco, New York, and Seattle. But Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the nation, has not seen job growth like other cities have, as deputy commerce director Sylvie Gallier Howard pointed out during the hearing, warning of laws that might hinder job creation.

The law, if passed and enforced — the latter is an enormous "if" — could have a broad effect on the 130,000 Philadelphians working in retail and food service. In a survey of nearly 700 of those Philadelphia workers, 66 percent said they had unpredictable schedules, according to a February 2018 report from the University of California, Berkeley's hourly work research center.

Lekesha Wheelings, a cook who has worked at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown for 11 years, said she saw her hours fall in 2017 and made $5,000 less than she did the previous year. "You can see that the city is growing in so many ways," she said. "But sometimes it feels like we're not getting ahead."

This bill, she said, is "a way forward for our city."

The hearing depicted recent shifts in the national labor movement. With union representation at a historic low, organizers and politicians have set their sights on fighting for the rights of workers who aren't backed by organized labor. Union leaders and their membership showed up to support the bill regardless.

"We realize that the 130,000 workers in the retail, food, and hospitality workplaces do not have the benefits and protections that we receive as members of AFSCME," said Fred Wright, president of municipal workers' District Council 47.

Industry leaders and business groups testified against the law at the hearing, saying it would hurt their bottom line when they already face thin profit margins. These industries are inherently unpredictable, business leaders said at the hearing.

In Seattle, Aramark staffs every event and location covered by the law "as leanly as possible," according to Brian Hastings, Aramark's district manager. Before the law there was passed, when business was good, workers would get more hours, he said. Now, because of the "predictability pay" penalty for last-minute shift changes, the company can't do that.

Managers representing the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association also spoke out against the law, saying that it could drive up prices and make rates less competitive. Julie Coker Graham, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, reminded Council that the city's tourism industry is booming. It's the city's second-largest employment sector overall, she said.

In other cities that have passed "fair workweek" laws, hotels have not been covered. But hotel workers, too, deal with unpredictable scheduling, as workers at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown have said.

The retail and hospitality industries compose about 20 percent of the jobs in Philadelphia and are among the fastest-growing in the city, according to data from Mayor Kenney's workforce plan.

Since Council Member Helen Gym introduced the bill with seven other sponsors in June, she has met with lobbyists from national corporations, including Target, according to city lobbying data. She's also hosted business round tables to get feedback from the  community.

Earlier this month, Gym hosted Seattle Council Member Lorena Gonzalez, one of the officials who championed the scheduling bill there, to speak to City Council about the merits of the law.

The bill is scheduled for a full vote Nov. 29.

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Philadelphia Media Network is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city's push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at https://brokeinphilly.org

Juliana Feliciano Reyes @juliana_f_reyes |jreyes@phillynews.com

Marc Lamont Hill: Black folks suffer most without fair workweek protections | Opinion

Marc Lamont Hill, For the Inquirer

I grew up in North and West Philly, where I was taught, by my Uncle Bobbie, to do what's right — not because it's easy, but because it matters. It's why I named my business after him. It's why I know that treating working people with basic dignity by telling them when and how much they're going to work is common sense. And it's why I hope City Council passes Fair Workweek legislation that would do right by 130,000 working families in our city.

My Uncle Bobbie never had access to formal higher education, but he was committed to lifelong learning. His house introduced me to the world of critical analysis. Uncle Bobbie read every paper, magazine, and book that he could get his hands on — because learning how the world works teaches us about what is right and what needs to be done. I watched as Uncle Bobbie questioned everything, in hopes of changing things for the better. He challenged us to follow suit. It's why I committed my life to being an activist-scholar, struggling to produce new ideas that create justice on the ground for real people in real communities. It is also why, in my business, I make sure that my employees are guaranteed dignity, respect, and support.

We are living in a historical moment of disinvestment in our neighborhoods. Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books is a community space designed for sharing, building, learning, laughing, debating, eating, and building. It's a replication of Uncle Bobbie's house: a space where folks come together and know that there's mutual respect among everyone who walks through the doors — customers, employees, visitors, and myself.

Black business owners have less capital, less mentorship, and fewer resources than other entrepreneurs. Black bookstores, once a staple in our communities, are now few and far between. They are special because they approach their customers and staff with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to justice. Owning a small business isn't easy. My business model presumes that black people do read, that black people will support a black business, and that black people can support other black people by treating employees well.

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Uncle Bobbie's is true to its namesake because of the dignity and respect provided to my employees, who have helped make my dream of opening a black bookstore in Germantown a reality. My employees know when they'll work. I approve requests for time off. I pay them a living wage. I make sure that they have the security that they need to care for themselves, their families, and their communities. This costs me a little extra. I do it because it's what's right.

My employees get enough rest between shifts, so they're in a good mood when they come into work. My employees get plenty of time off to spend time with their families, so they're engaged while at work. They work regular, set shifts and know their schedules, so they can build relationships with Uncle Bobbie's regulars. When you combine those three things — employee satisfaction, engagement, and relationships — you create a unique space where people feel welcome.

In Philly, the majority of folks working in food service and retail are black. It's black folks who are suffering because schedules are constantly shifting. It's black folks who are called in to work at the last minute. It's black folks who are suffering when shifts are cut short and their paycheck isn't what they expected. And it's black folks who stand to benefit from the basic protections that the fair workweek bill provides.

If a new, small business in Germantown can provide basic protections for its employees, my Uncle Bobbie's wisdom has taught me that large corporations undoubtedly can, too. I don't have ultra-complex scheduling software at my disposal. I don't have lobbyists taking meetings on my behalf. I just have the values of my family, and the drive to do right by my employees and by the people in my community. A fair workweek is the least we can do.

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Marc Lamont Hill is the owner of Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books and a professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University. 

Posted: October 30, 2018 - 9:30 AM
Marc Lamont Hill, For the Inquirer

Workers push for City Council approval for Fair Workweek legislation

By Emily Neil

Philadelphia City Council will hold a hearing on Fair Workweek legislation on Tuesday that will potentially grant more than 100,000 workers who work at some of the largest companies in the retail, hospitality and food sectors in the city the right to advanced notice of their schedules.

“It means everything to me,” said Juan Mulet, 23, of the proposed legislation, introduced by City Councilwoman Helen Gym in June.

Mulet, a college student working to support himself, said that his experiences working retail at Skechers and Forever 21 made it difficult to plan anything in his life.

While at Skechers, his boss would often text him the schedule and say that he was working this or that day, but would not tell him the exact hours until that same day, he said.

“I’m a human being. I have to worry. And that isn’t fair,” said Mulet. Being able to know his schedule ahead of time would help Mulet be more present to help care for his mother, who is ill and often has doctor’s appointments. It would also aid him in his acting career - he often can’t plan to go to auditions because the schedule at his current workplace, which he declined to name, doesn’t send the week’s schedule until Sunday of that week.

The hearing with the City Council Law and Government Committee, to be held on Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. at the City Council, is the next step in the process of passing the bill. 

Kati Sipp, principal at New Working Majority LLC — a consulting company that works with labor unions, community organizations, and social enterprises committed to fighting for racial, economic, and gender justice — said that workers are most supportive of the legislation’s requirement that employers let their workers know their schedules two weeks in advance, as well as the stipulation that employers must offer any additional hours that arise to employees that are already working for them.

“[These] are the two things that I think workers are very excited about, because the combination of those two things will add much more stability to their lives,” said Sipp.

Knowing your schedule two weeks in advance means you could schedule a doctor’s appointment for your kid, or know if you’re going to make it to back to school night, Sipp explained: “If you are a person who has two part-time jobs, or is balancing a school schedule and a work schedule, you’ll know your work schedule and that gives you that scheduling stability.”

“The idea that they’ll also be offered new hours before employers are hiring new people means that greater chance for economic stability because, obviously, if you are able to work more hours and you’re not getting offered those hours by your employer right now, you’re earning less money than you might want to be able to earn,” she added.

Sipp said that, though there has been lobbying against the bill by some of the industries that would be covered under it, it has been on the legislative agenda for less than a year.

“We’re really counting on the fact that the City Council will respond to sort of the fact that there are 130,000 workers in the city who could potentially be covered by this bill and experience the improvements — that the voices of those 130,000 workers should be louder than the voices of individuals that manage a hotel in Center City,” Sipp said.

The bill would exclude the majority of food establishments: City Councilwoman Gym noted in a September interview with AL DÍA that the bill “eliminates probably 98 percent of food businesses in Philadelphia, so they won’t even be impacted.”

“We’re talking about large-scale employers, McDonald’s, chain restaurants, those that have...the technological capacity to get to zero food waste, every single month. I have a hard time believing that they can’t treat their employees with that same kind of respect,” she said.

After meeting an organizer from OnePA, a statewide activist coalition, Mulet decided to become involved in the Fair Work Week Campaign, and plans to attend the rally, organized by OnePA and others, to be held outside of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon prior to the hearing. 

“I’ve been trying to get my friends to come because it’s important,”Mulet said.

Philly needs higher wages, better hours and a broader and deeper safety net

Posted: October 26, 2018 - 5:00 AM
Mark Price, For the Inquirer

The Census Bureau's September release of data on incomes and poverty in 2017 was startling for many: Household incomes were up in nine of the 10 largest cities in the country, the exception being the city of Philadelphia. This begs the question: Is the city's newfound prosperity a mirage?

Consider the numbers. Philadelphia's August unemployment rate was 6 percent, the lowest August unemployment rate in the city since 2000, when it was 5.8 percent.

The city's employment growth has been stronger than the state's since the end of the Great Recession, growing at an average annual rate of just over 1 percent, compared to the statewide average of 0.85 percent. This growth has reduced unemployment by almost half from its post-recession peak of 10.9 percent.

The share of city residents with employment in 2017 at 53 percent is higher than before the recession began.  The city's good job growth numbers have reduced the poverty rate in Philadelphia, which has fallen from its 2011 peak of 28.4 percent to 25.7 percent in 2016.  Of course, as incomes fell in 2017, the poverty rate was unchanged while deep poverty climbed.

This is troubling news, but it is also important to remember that in 2007 — the best year for the U.S. and Philadelphia economy prior to the start of the Great Recession, when the city's unemployment rate was 6.2 percent — just under one in four (23.8 percent) of the city's residents had incomes below the poverty line.

Poverty will remain stubbornly high because economic growth on its own is not sufficient to lead to large reductions in the poverty rate or for broadly shared income growth. For example, we find that incomes for the top 20 percent of Philadelphia households are up over 2007 by 13 percent while incomes after adjusting for inflation for the bottom 60 percent of household remain at or below their levels in 2007. Internal Revenue Service data suggest that income growth among the top 20 percent has been concentrated among the top 1 percent of the city's families, who have seen their average income climb 32 percent since 2010.

Official poverty thresholds understate the degree to which Philadelphia families struggle to get by.  While the official poverty threshold in 2017 was $16,895 for a single adult with one child, data on the costs that families in the city face for rent, food, childcare, and health care reveal that a basic family budget for a single parent requires an annual income of $56,912.  Median earnings in the city of $32,011 suggest that for, many Philadelphia families, work doesn't pay enough to provide a decent standard of living.

What Philadelphia needs is higher wages, better hours, and a broader and deeper safety net.

The most direct route to raising wages is a minimum wage that's higher than $7.25 per hour, but the city is blocked by state law from setting a higher minimum wage and by reluctance by the leadership of the Republican majority in Harrisburg to move legislation to raise the state's minimum wage.

In addition to low wages, many residents in Pennsylvania continue to work part-time jobs when they would prefer full-time work,  a fact that has kept the state's underemployment rate at 9.4 percent, which is higher than following the aftermath of the dot-com recession in 2002. The challenge of insufficient hours is felt most acutely by Philadelphia's service-sector workers, just 17 percent of whom are employed full-time.  Just under three in four of Philadelphia's part-time service workers report needing additional hours to better make ends meet.

Philadelphia City Council this week takes up Fair Workweek Legislationthat, in addition to providing workers with more notice on scheduling of work hours — a key requirement for all working parents — it also requires employers, when expanding their schedule, to offer hours first to incumbent part-time employees, rather than hiring new ones. Expanding hours for the underemployed is an important step toward helping more working Philadelphians move out of poverty.

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Mark Price is a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center and author of the State of Working Philadelphia, which is available online.

Governor Kate Brown says she'll continue to protect the Oregon residents love

As Oregon’s governor, I led bipartisan work on transportation, Medicaid funding and ensuring all kids have health care. Working together, urban and rural, we built a better Oregon.

I’m committed to continuing our work to move our state forward at a time when our Oregon values are under attack.

I fought back when politicians tried to cut Oregonians’ health care. I fought to protect our pristine Oregon Coast from offshore drilling. And at a time when women’s rights are under attack across the country, I made sure every woman in Oregon can access reproductive health care.

Some background: Three Views: Why I should be elected governor of Oregon

Another perspective: An Independent can be elected governor in Oregon

A different look: State's schools can be saved, but it will require reforming PERS

I have been clear during my time as governor that I will do what I say and say what I do. My record is clear. I will stand up and protect the Oregon that we love.

Over the last three years, we’ve faced tough challenges. I have led our response to some of the state’s worst wildfires. We helped the Roseburg community heal from the tragedy at Umpqua Community College. And we stood strong with the people of Burns during the Malheur Wildlife occupation. Oregon needs a strong leader who will stand up for all Oregonians, no matter who they are, and defend our values.

Earlier this year when cyanotoxins were found in Salem’s drinking water, I activated the National Guard to provide drinking water until the threat had passed. I made sure that emergency responders had the resources they needed to respond to the crisis and I’ll fight in the Legislature to build the infrastructure we need to protect our water supply.

I believe in the Oregon way. It’s how we took on complex problems like fixing our roads and bridges and making sure that Oregonians have access to health care.

●       We passed a transportation package that will reduce traffic, create 16,000 new jobs and make our roads safer.

●       We passed a first-in-the-nation pay equity and fair scheduling bill with bipartisan votes.

●       We worked together to ensure that 430,000 Oregonians have access to affordable health care because everyone should be able to see the doctor when they’re sick.

I got those passed with both Democrat and Republican votes. And I’m committed to continue working for all Oregonians over the next four years.

I pushed for the construction of Amazon’s Salem fulfillment center, which will bring good jobs to this region. And we’ve been supporting the Salem-Keizer Career and Technical Education Center because of the critical role it plays in ensuring Oregonians have the skills they need to compete in our global economy.

I want to close the gap between the workforce that we have and the workforce we need to compete in a global economy, and I launched Future Ready Oregon to expand job training for Oregonians statewide.

I want to keep protecting health care and expand access. And I’ll continue to protect our clean air and water.

Now is not the time to move our state backward. Now is the time to keep Oregon moving forward.

Incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, who has served since 2015, is running on the Democratic ticket. Reach her at info@katebrownfororegon.com 

To help Philly kids, make sure their parents can be there


 Abram Taber
Published: Oct. 10, 2018, 9:00 a.m.

As a music teacher, I get to interact with every child in my school. I know that some of the best music students are not necessarily the strongest academically, or those who have perfect behavior. To succeed in school, kids need to be able to find some place to shine, and for many students the arts offer that opportunity.

Last year, I had an elementary-aged choir student who got so sick with stage fright that he couldn’t sing during our winter concert. So before the spring concert, I met with his mom, to see if she could attend. Having a parent in the audience can really help calm a kid down. Performing can be nerve-wracking, and it’s good to see a friendly face.

I know this firsthand. I played saxophone in the band and sang in choir all through my primary school years, and in all that time my mom only ever missed one concert — for the birth of my sister. I don’t hold that against her, obviously, but it still sticks out in my mind. It was the first time I publicly played a solo, and my mom wasn’t there to watch. My parents’ pride in my musical ability was one of the reasons I stuck with it during the challenging times; the seemingly endless hours practicing the same piece over and over again. I wanted to make them proud.

But it’s not always easy for parents to attend their kids’ performances, even if they have the best intentions.

In the case of my student who had bad stage fright, his mother really wanted to come to the spring concert, she said, but she’d just gotten a new job, and wasn’t sure if she could make it because she didn’t have her schedule yet, and didn’t know if she’d be able to get the time off (all of our concerts take place during the school day). She also seemed very worried about possible retaliation if she called out, even if it was because she didn’t want to miss an important event in her son’s life.

In Philadelphia, over 130,000 retail, foodservice and hospitality workers don’t know if they’ll be able to come to their kids’ concerts, because they may not get their work schedules more than a few days in advance.

These parents don’t know if they’ll make it to Back to School Night to meet their children’s teachers and start to develop a rapport with them. They don’t know if they’ll be able to volunteer for the PTA bake sales, or see the soccer games, or come to the art show.

When parents can’t participate in the life of their kids’ school, it makes school this “other place” that isn’t connected to the family, or the community.

There are other school-related side effects of parents’ unpredictable work schedules as well. At some schools, when students are suspended, they aren’t allowed back in the building until a parent comes in to meet with the administrator. If a parent is constantly getting called in to work on an ad-hoc basis, that means a one-day suspension can turn into three or four days — and that is bad for kids, academically.

It’s time that City Council passes Councilwoman Gym’s Fair Workweek legislation, and gives all of Philly’s working parents the chance to be involved in their kids’ activities. Don’t all our kids deserve that?

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Abram Taber is a music teacher in South Philly. He has worked as a teacher for 13 years and in the School District of Philadelphia for 4 years.

Students, low-wage workers rally to demand consistent work hours, advance scheduling

A big focus was how the demands of the Fair Workweek Initiative would help students.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — College students, Philadelphia school employees, and low-wage workers in the city gathered along Spring Garden Street outside the Community College of Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon to demand a fair work week and speak out against economic injustice. 

Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela is part of the Faculty & Staff Federation at CCP. That group helped organize the rally. She says The Fair Workweek Initiative focuses on schedules — "insisting that people should get two weeks notice of their schedule, that people should have accees to 40 hours a week."

Andrew Kramer✔@Philly_Kramer

Students and Philadelphia school employees are speaking out right now outside @CCPedu against economic injustice and calling for a fair workweek #fairworkweekphl @fairworkweekPHL @KYWNewsradio

4:28 PM - Oct 4, 2018

6See Andrew Kramer's other Tweets

RELATED: In growing national trend, fair work week bill introduced in Philly council

Also, Johnson-Valenzuela said, "It's definetly still about wages."

A big focus of this rally was how the demands of Fair Workweek would benefit college students.

"Their employers aren't respecting the fact that they're in college," Johnson-Valenzuela said. "They're not giving them consistent schedules, so we see that in our classrooms as well, the need for that kind of respect in the workplace."

Rymir Vaughn, a student, says that his managers schedule him when he's supposed to be in class at CCP, even though he tells them not to.

"And I don't want them to fire me because I'm late." 

Work schedule reforms can help employees — and businesses

Fair is Fair

To the editor: This is in response to the recent editorial “Would the Chicago City Council Punish the Cubs?” For the second time, the Tribune has published an editorial reiterating the opinions of business groups that lobby against laws to improve working-class jobs, in this case against the proposed Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance.

Sure, there are details yet to be worked out in the proposed ordinance, but the editorials get its purpose wrong. The goal is not about punishing business, but about treating workers fairly. If being able to adjust employees' schedules at the last minute is as essential to profitability as the Tribune asserts, then businesses should be willing to pay for it. Workers and families certainly do.

Currently, all of the costs of just-in-time scheduling are put on the shoulders of workers as they scramble to arrange last-minute child care, miss their trains or buses, or come up short on their rent. The proposed Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance does not prohibit employers from adjusting employees' hours. It just helps ensure that employers limit adjustments to only those that are literally worth it to the business.

— Susan Lambert, Chicago

Dire straits

To the editor: I am 77 years old and probably won’t have many more chances to vote for governor. I had hoped to have a clear choice as to which candidate would provide the leadership that would get our state out of the financial mess we have been languishing in for decades. However, it appears as if, again, I will have to hold my nose and vote for one of the major-party candidates, neither of whom have provided the voters with any plan to improve our state’s financial straits. How depressing!

— Richard Schultz, Crete

Bad behavior

To the editor: After watching the conduct of the Senate Democratsduring the Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearings, the next time I hear the word "civility" from a Democrat, I'll have a little chuckle.

— Neil Gaffney, Chicago

Unfit to serve

To the editor: Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, Oct. 2. In the course of his speech, he mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers.

At this point, all we have is Kavanaugh’s word against Ford’s, so we don’t really know the full truth, but it is very clear that Ford was definitely a victim of sexual assault. For Trump to stand up in front of a crowd of people and make fun of Ford is just one more reason, in a long list of reasons, that he is not fit to be president of the United States.

— Judy Weik, Oak Park

A new low

To the editor: Donald Trump's recent speech mocking Brett Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford was a new low, even for him. This is a man who has not an ounce of empathy for anyone but himself. That the Republican Party continues to enable him so it can get another nominee on the Supreme Court and more tax cuts for the rich is a tragedy for our democracy.

Trump's base will support him no matter what he says or does, but its members are a steadily shrinking minority — not enough to stop the blue wave of Democrats from winning office in November. Once we have control of the House, the subpoenas for Trump's taxes will be the beginning of a real effort to hold this president accountable to the rule of law.

— Richard Keslinke, Algonquin

Free trade fail

To the editor: It seems reasonably clear that President Donald Trump will require surgery for the injuries incurred while patting himself on the back with regard to what was formerly called NAFTA. What is totally unclear is why Trump — or anyone else — could credibly claim that much has been accomplished, except for a lot of publicity, something which Trump obviously covets.

Let’s see. NAFTA has been renamed, such that the U.S. appears first. Is that all that Trump meant by his slogan “America First”? Then, it is said, Canada will relax — but not eliminate — its quotas on certain dairy products. That move primarily will help Canadian consumers, but it may be of modest assistance to the U.S. dairy industry. Is that what Trump promised in his campaign rhetoric? Next, and quite likely off-setting any possible benefit to the U.S. from the Canadian dairy trade changes, is the increase in the domestic content requirements for the auto industry — a clear step backward.

Trump’s views on trade restraints have been, and are, demonstrably horrible economics, and this “redoing” of NAFTA does not detract in any way from that conclusion.

— William P. Gottschalk, Lake Forest

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:

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"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.

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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.