The Seattle Times, February 10, 2016
by Nick Hanauer
IMAGINE you own a small restaurant and you just hired a new server. She’s looking forward to starting, she insists, though she won’t tell you exactly when. But don’t worry, she says, she’ll call you every Sunday to give you her schedule for the coming week and will try to stick to that as much as possible.
Meanwhile, your bartender calls in to tell you that due to a drop in business on Tuesdays his service will no longer be needed those nights, while one of your cooks unexpectedly shows up a few hours early demanding an unscheduled double shift.
Now imagine all of your employees demanding this sort of “flexibility” — coming and going as fits their schedules, not yours, while providing little, if any, notice in advance.
You couldn’t possibly run a business like that!
Yet this is exactly what many businesses currently expect of their workers.
Existing scheduling laws are frankly appalling. Employers aren’t required to give any notice for changes in schedules, which make it impossible for employees to plan the details of their daily life — whether it’s child care, a dentist appointment or something as basic as the family dinner. Even worse, employees who can’t reliably count on regular hours can’t reliably plan a monthly budget.
A typical worker earning minimum wage might work anywhere from 25 to 38 hours a week — in Washington state, that’s the difference between $947 and $1,439 a month in pretax pay. Employers also may expect them to be “on call,” meaning workers won’t know if they have a shift until the day of, making it impossible to work a second job.
It’s hard to buy a car or sign a lease if you don’t know how much you’ll be earning from week to week, let alone month to month. It’s impossible to invest in yourself by going back to college part time if you never know when you might be forced to choose between your class and your job.
Why do employers take their workers for granted like this? To be perfectly honest, it’s because we can, and because it makes our lives easier and our short-term profits higher. So why not demand complete control over a worker’s schedule — including off hours in the case of on-call shifts — if there are no laws against it?
As business owners, we would never accept these kinds of working conditions for ourselves.”
This is why I’m glad Seattle City Council members Lorena González and Lisa Herbold are starting the conversation on secure scheduling policy. Seattle should lead the way on secure scheduling, the same way the city led on the $15 minimum wage. Businesses won’t adopt secure scheduling on their own, even though it’s good for them — don’t be mistaken, it is. Smart, effective scheduling laws make for more productive workers and more engaged consumers, benefiting businesses at every level.
When workers are well-rested, they’re better employees. When they can enjoy full lives, they’re happier people, better neighbors and more active members of their communities. When they have predictable schedules, they can plan for expenses and even save up for larger purchases. They can eat family meals in restaurants and go to movies. They can enjoy the trappings of modern life without worrying that they’ll be called away for a last-minute shift for which they’ll barely be compensated.
When more consumers are able to spend more money, businesses profit. That’s how the economy works.
As business owners, we would never accept these kinds of working conditions for ourselves — so why are we so willing to force them on workers? We must apply the Golden Rule to scheduling: Schedule others as you would have them schedule you.
Nick Hanauer is a venture capitalist with Second Avenue Partners in Seattle.