Capitol Hill Seattle: ‘Clopening’ time: Seattle on the clock for secure scheduling

The subject has been bubbling up in Seattle public discourse for around six months now. Last fall, local progressive labor advocacy organization Working Washington and Starbucks baristas protested their inconsistent and unpredictable work schedules, which labor advocates say act as barriers for low-income workers to scheduling life necessities like college classes or childcare or budgeting living expenses. A few months later, in his 2016 state of the city speech, Mayor Ed Murray highlighted secure scheduling as a key low-wage worker equity issue and said his office would work with the City Council to address it.

“We know that having a secure schedule of hours helps workers plan their budget, plan for childcare, enroll in school or take a second job – and we know schedule predictability will most help low-wage hourly workers,” Murray said in his speech.

With a $15 minimum wage already under Seattle’s belt, City Hall along with labor and business interests have turned their attention to the next big issue affecting the city’s proletariat and their bosses: secure scheduling.

“The response has moved pretty quickly from when workers first spoke out about it, and that’s heartening. There’s been a tremendous amount of support expressed by both the council and the mayor’s office on the need to move forward and do something to address secure scheduling,” said Sage Wilson, a spokesperson for Working Washington. “This is a really urgent issue for workers week to week.”

“Clopenings” — when a worker works a late-night closing shift and is also directed to work a early-morning opening shift with only a few hours in between

On March 8th, the mayor’s office convened a group of stakeholders of both labor and employers representing—including representatives from the likes of Working Washington, the Washington Restaurant Association, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and unions like SEIU 775 and UFCW Local 21—who have been meeting separately and then “reporting out” regularly to the the city council’s committee on Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts (of which Herbold is the chair and District 3’s ownKshama Sawant is a committee member) on their discussions to help inform the Council. The mayor’s office says these stakeholders will be submitting formal recommendations to the council at some unidentified date.

The council committee has also been bringing in experts on the issue and model secure scheduling ordinances. Last week, the committee heard from representatives from the Center for Center for Popular Democracy (CPD)—a non-profit left advocacy group—on their model secure scheduling policy and the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, who enacted their own scheduling ordinance specifically for retail workers several years ago.

The Council and the mayor’s office also commissioned a study from researchers at the University of Washington Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance on the state of irregular scheduling in Seattle, including focus groups and a employer/manager survey of scheduling practices. The study is slated to come back on July 4th.

The plan, according to staffers in Herbold’s office, is to keep meeting with the stakeholders, receiving input from experts and looking at available data into early June, after which Herbold’s office will start drafting the actual policy.

The claims of Working Washington and picketing Starbucks baristas have merit. Researchers in addition to advocates have documented the impacts of unpredictable scheduling on workers (especially employees receiving hourly compensation), namely the association between irregular schedules and work/family conflicts (like picking up kids from school or childcare), the inability to schedule and maintain routines (e.g college classes or other jobs), and general increased worker stress from having to be on-call all the time. These types of jobs are concentrated in the retail, food service, hospitality, and healthcare industries.

Last year’s report from the Restaurant Opportunity Center on the state of the restaurant industry in Seattle showed that 26% of local restaurant workers receive their schedules less than a week in advance and 30% see schedule changes every two weeks. And women and people of color (who are heavily represented in low-wage food industry jobs) are disproportionately impacted by erratic scheduling.

“The issues that we’ve heard most about from workers are about two weeks advance notice of schedules”

The utilization of new scheduling software by employers and managers has been identified as a major cause of irregular scheduling. Starbucks has come under fire in recent years for its scheduling policies, specifically its utilization of scheduling software designed to maximize company efficiency by predicting store traffic and corresponding required staffing levels when and where. Advocates say the software incentivizes managers to under-staff stores, keeps employee hours at part time levels (which also allows employers to avoid giving full-time employee benefits and overtime), and quickly patch together weekly schedules from a large pool of part-time employees, often with little advance notice for the employee.

One of the often cited extreme results of digitized, maximum-efficiency scheduling is “clopenings,” when a worker works a late-night closing shift and is also directed to work a early-morning opening shift with only a few hours in between.

Advocates want to see these issues addressed in any future policy in Seattle.

“The issues that we’ve heard most about from workers are about two weeks advance notice of schedules,” said Wilson of Working Washington. “There’s access to hours. before companies hire more and more extremely part time workers, they should give more hours to employees they already have. And then there’s the eliminating ‘clopening shifts’ and the right to rest. You should have the ability to rest at least eleven hours between shifts.”

What the final ordinance will look like is still unclear, though based on the arch of the committee and stakeholder discussions, we know what they’re considering. It’s a balancing act between the real need to crack down on scheduling policies that leave employees at the mercy of their employer and employer’s legitimate need for scheduling flexibility, such as when a restaurant gets slammed during a understaffed dinner rush or someone calls in sick.

There is a potential ways to find that middle ground, as was illustrated at last Tuesday’s committee meeting and presentations on CPD’s model ordinance and San Francisco’s own retail worker secure scheduling ordinance. Both the CPD and San Francisco model use a “predictability pay” mandate as an incentive for employers to give workers adequate notice, where employers would compensate a worker for an hour’s worth of wages if they fail to provide a schedule two weeks or more in advance, and then dialing it up for schedule changes or notices that occur within 24 hours by raising the mandated compensation to two to four hours of pay. The San Francisco ordinance does provide exceptions for employee initiated shift swaps, like when an employer needs another worker to cover the shift of an employee who is out sic). Both models also require that employers must make hours available to veteran employees before hiring more part-time employees, a requirement aimed at combating the proliferation of part-time employee labor.

“The policy is designed to both preserve the flexibility that workers and employers need in making work schedules while also promoting stability for hourly workers,” Rachel Deutsch of the CPD told the Council.

District 3’s Kshama Sawant told CHS that she wants to see a policy that affects all businesses in Seattle, not just big retail and foodservice businesses. San Francisco’s ordinance is structured to only affect big box retailers.

“While it’s true that the issue is experienced more by workers in the service industry and retail industry, like Starbucks, the best way to ensure secure scheduling for all workers is to ensure a citywide policy for all businesses across Seattle,” Sawant said.

Naturally, the issue pits the local labor and employer camps duking it out during Seattle’s $15 minimum wage debate against each other yet again. However the tone and dynamic of the debate in this round, is a little different, along with the format. While the Seattle Chamber of Commerce has indicated that it is certainly uncomfortable with the secure scheduling initiative and initial stakeholder discussions with council committee back in March resulted in the employer representatives claiming that scheduling wasn’t really a problem, loud pushback from the business community has been noticeably lacking in recent weeks.

“It was the early committee meetings that employers were spending time and energy to try and deny that scheduling was a problem,” said Wilson. “One the things that has happened through the stakeholder process is that employers have stopped trying to make that case. They’re largely in agreement [with labor] that people should have predictable schedules.”

Sierra Hansen, head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, said that the issue is barely on the radar of the chamber’s board and that she hasn’t heard anything about it from member businesses.

“I would prefer we draft an ordinance and then debate it rather than closed room discussions and that the public got involved”

Wilson with Working Washington attributes the change in the dynamic of the stakeholder group conversations to the political climate of the city, the unity between the executive and the council to push the issue, and previous local labor victories, like $15 and paid sick and safe leave.

“It does seem to me to be both a product of the process as well as a strong consensus on Council and the mayor to do something on this,” said Wilson. “[And] the mood of the city is pretty clear: people want workers to have basic rights.”

Sawant, who was voted into office on her fiery platform of rent control, a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, and a fundamental change in labor and equity in the city, said that the stakeholder workgroup process is “not an approach that I would choose.”

“I would prefer we draft an ordinance and then debate it rather than closed room discussions and that the public got involved,” said Sawant. “That’s how we won $15 dollar an hour, that’s how we won the SHA rent hikes. A lot of historic things have happened, and that’s because of the approach of my office.”

“What was different around $15 was that we were very clear. If you were for $15 you were with working people and had to go up against big business and be courageous about that,” Sawant said. “I know that there is this narrative from the mayor and big business and Tom Douglas that we won 15 because we all came together and agreed to raise the minimum wage. That’s absolutely untrue. The reason we won 15 is because we had a mass movement in Seattle.”