Washington City Paper: Bill Proposes Two Weeks of Advanced Notice for Shifts Among major D.C. retailers

Originally published by Washington City Paper, Andrew Giambrone
June 23, 2016

Photo by Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper

Under revised legislation first introduced by the D.C. Council in December, District employees who work for restaurants and retail establishments with 40 or more locations nationwide would be entitled to at least 14 days of advanced notice about their shifts, and to varying rates of compensation if those employers change their schedules within that timeframe.

The Council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs—chaired by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange—is set to mark-up the bill on Thursday. But a draft print of and a committeereport on the legislation reveals that the District would join San Francisco in proactively regulating what labor activists have termed "just-in-time scheduling" if the Council ultimately approves the measure. As amended, the bill would create fines for major retailers and franchises that fail to provide adequate notice of shift changes to an employee: one hour of "predictability pay" (based on an employer's regular rate) if the notice is given between 14 days and 24 hours before a scheduled shift; and two or four hours of such pay—depending on whether the shift is less or greater than four hours—if the notice is given within a day of a scheduled shift. Still, the legislation does not ban the practice of "on-call shifts," in which workers can be called in at the last minute.

"These type[s] of practices affect low-wage workers the most," the report says, echoing arguments labor advocates have previously made. "Constant changes to an employee’s schedule leads to uncertainty about his or her income, impacts the employee’s ability to hold a second job, disrupts child planning, and affects an employee’s ability to seek additional education or training." The committee goes on to note that it's considering establishing exceptions to the requirement for employers to pay predictability pay, such as power outages, acts of nature, and cancelled events outside firms' control.

Some big companies with D.C. venues have already started posting work schedules anywhere from 10 days to two-and-a-half weeks in advance, according to the report. Apparently, others haven't: D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine in April announced an investigationinto more than a dozen companies' scheduling policies as part of a multi-state collaboration.

Business-backers have criticized the proposal for being overly broad and disruptive of companies' abilities to adjust to unforeseen situations, from the January blizzard to Metro's ongoing long-term maintenance plan. “Whether you ride the train, the bus, or drive, phase two [of SafeTrack] will throw another wrench in your commute," saidSteven Jumper, a spokesperson for the D.C. Jobs and Growth Partnership, in a statement last week. "Restrictive scheduling would eliminate flexibility for both employers and employees, making it exceedingly difficult for many in the business community to operate.”Kamal Ali, the owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, made much the same argument in an op-ed yesterday.

In addition to the scheduling requirements, the proposed bill would mandate that major retailers and restaurants offer additional hours of work to part-time employees before hiring new ones. Part-time employees would be paid the same hourly wage as full-time ones "if the job entails the same skills and responsibilities," per the committee's report.

"Recently, the District gave final approval to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour," it concludes. "By providing service workers with higher wages and full-time hours it can help close the income inequality gap and also help families afford to live in the District. Also, providing full-time employment to these employees will help them gain access to other benefits such as the health-care benefits under the Affordable Care Act." D.C. is concurrently weighing a paid-leave bill.