The Hill: Jeb and Hillary's opportunity on workweek fairness

Originally published by The Hill, Carrie Gleason
July 22, 2015

Photo by Getty

Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have been trading barbs about whether Americans are working hard enough, but behind the give-and-take is a real emerging issue that has a dire impact on our country’s 75 million hourly workers and their families: the 40 hour workweek is no longer something we can count on. The candidates have a chance to move beyond the gamesmanship and support concrete solutions at the national and local level to show their commitment to the stability of working families.

To summarize the exchange, Bush said that “people need to work longer hours.” Clinton quickly responded on Twitter, “Anyone who believes Americans aren't working hard enough hasn't met enough American workers.” Bush retorted, referencing the number of people who are involuntarily working part time and seeking full time work that, “Anyone who discounts 6.5 million people stuck in part-time work and seeking full-time jobs hasn’t listened to working Americans.”

Taken at their word, neither of them is wrong; both sides of the argument resonate in the lived experiences of the millions of people working by the hour. For hourly workers trying to work enough hours to earn enough to get by, it can mean taking the hours they can get –sometimes working short four-hour shifts, putting their lives on hold for a last-minute on-call shift, or working the late night shifts followed by too little sleep because of an early morning shift the next day – also known as a “clopen.”

This is reality for millions of Americans all across the country. Strained, exhausted, and without seeing their families some days. Their rent and bills are predictable, but the work hours they need to pay them are not.

Many of these workers both want more hours, like Bush says, and are working hard, like Clinton says. The American workforce is rapidly changing, and millions of people are caught in a cycle of too few hours, too little control of when their hours occur, and not getting paid for the time they make available to their employers. For part-timed hourly workers, there’s often no way to get ahead.

The issue missing from Jeb and Hillary’s exchange is how underemployment and unpredictability go hand in hand. The one thing these workers can count on is that their schedules will change each week, sometimes with just minutes’ notice. This last minute notice is typical of part-time hourly workers across the economy, especially in fast food and retail, by employers like Target, Starbucks, the Gap, Victoria’s Secret, and others. It’s impossible to pick up more hours at another job if you don’t know day to day what your schedule will be.

If Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are looking for real solutions to these issues, a new movement being led by working moms has some concrete policy solutions to offer. Last week, Congress introduced the Schedules That Work Act, a path-breaking bill addressing these underlying problems of part-time work that Bush and Clinton are debating. The bill is a result of workers calling for schedules they can predict, more stable hours they can count on, and the right to have a say into the hours they work without retaliation. The Schedules That Work Act has garnered a wave of support, in both the House and Senate, and comes after a year when legislators in 12 states introduced policies to guarantee a fair workweek, including active municipal campaigns that includes Minneapolis, Albuquerque, and Washington DC.

Clinton launched her campaign and declared, “I believe you should receive your work schedule with enough notice to arrange childcare or take college courses to get ahead” and Bush’s recent statements on involuntary part-time work show that even the GOP can’t ignore the under-employed. But the chaos that under-employment and unpredictable scheduling sows into workers lives is not just fuel for rhetoric, it’s real. And it requires real policy solutions. Hillary and Jeb have the chance to go deeper than their back and forth, address the common underlying problems they’ve both identified, and stand in favor of federal and local legislation that builds a fair workweek.