KIRO7: Workers ask city leaders to help with unstable schedules, February 4, 2016

by Natasha Chen

SEATTLE, Wash. — Workers in Seattle have achieved a higher minimum wage, and now they are raising awareness of the next problem: instability in their work schedules.

In a national study by the University of Chicago, 41 percent of all hourly employees surveyed said they were notified of their work schedules with one week’s notice or less. Among part-time hourly employees, that number jumped to 47 percent.

In Seattle, some Starbucks workers  brought a petition to CEO Howard Schultz in the fall, asking to address the issue.

Some baristas spoke to council members Thursday, about one of the problems called “clopenings,” when a worker does both the opening and the closing of a story in one day.

Ilana Greenberg said the company has promised not to do that, but it still happens: “I definitely have co-workers and shift supervisors, even, who wind up getting out of work at 9:30, being back at 4 a.m. And it’s impossible to function that way.”

Greenberg said she sometimes works 38 hours, and sometimes she is scheduled for 15. She also said sometimes one may be called into work suddenly, or told to go home early if business is slow.

A Starbucks spokesperson told KIRO 7:

 “This is an industry challenge we have been addressing directly with our partners (employees). We are continuing to listen to their feedback and make improvements to give them the hours they want, when they want them, and where they want them.”

As far as getting a meeting with Schultz, the spokesperson said Starbucks asks employees who have concerns about their schedules to speak with their store manager and district manager. Starbucks also recently added a team to the Partner Contact Center that provides everyone with support staff focused on working through scheduling questions, challenges and ideas.

Workers said the problem isn’t just with Starbucks. Crystal Thompson loves her job at Domino’s, but she only gets her weekly assignment on Sunday nights, before her shifts begin. She also sees fluctuation of hours from 20 to 40.

Thompson has two children, one who is only 6 months old. She said planning for child care or simply budgeting her money is difficult.

Thompson would like to one day become a Spanish language interpreter. She would need to go back to college for that.

“I can’t even go to school, because you know my schedule is so unpredictable,” she said.

When asked whether she could get a second job to fill out the hours she needs to pay her bills, Thompson said the unpredictability of hours in one job would prevent her from being able to schedule a second job.

Domino’s told KIRO 7 all their stores in Washington state are owned by licensees, who must follow local laws. But beyond that, the corporate office does not control the way licensees handle scheduling.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez and council member Lisa Herbold attended the panel discussion. Both said they would support workers in finding a solution.

KIRO 7 asked Gonzalez how she would respond to businesses who might want to reserve that flexibility, due to unpredictable customer traffic.

Gonzalez said the city council should listen to business’ concerns, and see if those are things the council can legislate around.

She said this is an important issue to solve, especially for women, who make up more of the retail and service industries.

“I worked in fast food. I worked in retail stores. I worked as a day care provider. I understand what it means to not have certainty in what your week is going to look like for the next week. And not just what your week is going to look like, but frankly, how you’re going to make ends meet,” she said.