Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Target had quiet talks with labor on Minneapolis workplace rule

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 9, 2015
Adam Belz

Target Corp., the largest private employer in Minneapolis, worked closely with the backers of the workplace scheduling ordinance that angered many businesses before city leaders dropped it last month.
Target executives helped proponents of workers’ rights craft a rough framework for the ordinance, though one that was less onerous than the proposal that emerged publicly from the City Council, which would have forced businesses to tell workers their schedule 28 days in advance.
The company’s involvement, which until now hasn’t been disclosed, reflects Target’s concern about what shape future scheduling rules will take. While the rule would have affected only a few hundred Target employees — at three regular Target stores and one Target Express in the city — it could have influenced the national discussion on workers’ rights, which affects the retailer because it must deal with the costs of varying work rules across the country.
“It was one of the most productive examples of workers negotiating directly with a corporation that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Anthony Newby, director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, one of several workers’ groups that were pushing for the ordinance.
In a series of meetings in August and September, Target executives acknowledged to the groups that unpredictable schedules are a problem for workers and explained the company’s policies in detail to them. They then joined the groups in outlining areas of agreement to two Minneapolis City Council members two weeks before Mayor Betsy Hodges withdrew her support for a scheduling ordinance.

Target notifies its store employees of their schedules 10 days in advance, tries to be flexible with them and pays partial wages to workers who show up for a shift if it turns out they aren’t needed. It also does not schedule employees who work a night shift to come in the next morning, a practice that’s become known by the mash-up word “clopening.”

“We already have guardrails around so that people aren’t finishing a shift one night and then six, seven or eight hours later starting another shift,” said Jim Rowader, vice president of labor relations for Target. “We have a firm policy in place so that if people show up for a shift and for some reason they weren’t needed, they’re guaranteed a minimum three or four hours of pay.”

In the talks over the scheduling ordinance, Rowader and representatives from Target’s government affairs team met with a group that became known as the Minneapolis Works Coalition. That included Newby of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change; Brian Payne and Veronica Mendez, the co-directors of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos En Lucha (CTUL); Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26 and Liz Doyle of Take Action Minnesota.

In principle, the company and activists agreed that 14 days of advance notice on scheduling would work for all concerned. When the City Council announced it was considering a 28-day advance scheduling requirement, dozens of business owners and industry groups protested.

Target also opposed the 28-day idea. The company carefully tracks customer traffic, which helps it predict staffing requirements in its 1,800 stores — but not well enough to create a schedule 28 days in advance.

“We’re good, but we’re not that good,” Rowader said. “We were talking about, in concept, a 14-day notice, working with a seven-day grace period.”

Smaller businesses don’t have Target’s prowess in predicting how many workers they need, and the leaders of the Minneapolis Works Coalition knew from Target that a 28-day notice for schedules was going to be difficult to sell, but that’s what workers wanted, and the coalition used it as a starting point.

They say, however, they were surprised when that specific language was announced publicly and then surprised by the swiftness of the backlash.

“Things moved really, really fast,” Payne, of CTUL, said. “I was taken aback.”

Leading the opposition was the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents the chief executives of the state’s largest companies. The organization knew Target, one of its members, was talking to the Minneapolis Works Coalition, but still opposes any scheduling ordinance.

“It cannot work,” said Charlie Weaver, director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. “One hour doesn’t work for the dry cleaner or the restaurant owner. The Twins win last night, so now we have a game today, or it snows or there’s an accident where you’ve got 20 people coming to the emergency room and you need a bunch of nurses.”

Weaver acknowledged that a “few bad actors” unnecessarily keep their workers’ schedules unpredictable, but he added that many businesses need flexibility in staffing. “To the extent the problems are real, and there are real examples of people who take advantage of employees, let’s figure out a way to solve that without an ordinance,” he said.

About 80 people joined by conference call for a Minnesota Business Partnership strategy session in mid-October to figure out how to defeat the ordinance, which also guaranteed paid sick leave. Two days later, Hodges announced she no longer supported scheduling rules.

But workers’ rights proposals aren’t going away.

San Francisco has already passed an ordinance requiring a two-week scheduling notice for chain businesses like Target. And scheduling rules have been introduced in about a dozen state legislatures.

Rowader said Target was motivated by its experience with the ordinance in San Francisco to try to influence the process in Minneapolis, and he said it remains willing to work with promoters of new workers’ rules.

“They’re bringing to us concerns from workers in this community, a community which we certainly have an incredibly strong connection to,” Rowader said. “Target can play a role in addressing the concerns of the community we’re trying to serve, not only as a good corporate citizen, but also, these are folks that shop Target.”

The foundation for Target’s involvement in the ordinance was laid during campaigns to get the company to stop asking job candidates if they have a felony on their record and to get the retailer to adopt a policy urging higher labor standards from the firms it hires to clean its stores in the Twin Cities.

Take Action Minnesota helped persuade Target to support a “ban-the-box” initiative in 2013. The push for a responsible contractor policy, led by CTUL, was long and aggressive, including several strikes and protests.

By the time Target worked out an agreement with CTUL and SEIU Local 26, Rowader and his team had good working relationships with Doyle, Payne, Morillo and their allies. When the workers’ groups asked Target to discuss scheduling and sick leave, Target’s representatives were happy to meet.

Pointing to Target’s involvement and the support of some small businesses, advocates like Payne and Newby believe a scheduling ordinance with some compromise on the terms is still possible. “That conversation is far from over,” Newby said.