DCist: D.C. council moves toward new work scheduling requirements

Originally published by DCist, Rachel Sadon
June 24, 2016

Photo by iStockPhoto

Among a series of proposed labor laws working their way through the D.C. Council, a committee moved yesterday to require that chain stores and restaurants give advanced notice for schedules and shift changes.

The Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs voted 3-2 in favor the bill, which will now go to the full Council. If passed, food and retail outlets with 40 or more establishments nationwide would be required to give at least 14 days of advanced notice for work schedules.

Should a business fail to comply, they would be required to additionally compensate the employee (if the shift is changed with between 24 hours and 14 days notice, the worker would be paid for one hour's worth of work; for less than 24 hours notice, the employee would be entitled to either two or four hours of pay depending on the length of the shift). The bill also addresses on-call shifts—when employees are required to be available to work but may not be called in. In those cases, employees would be compensated for part of the time they spent on call.

A committee report cites a study from Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, DC Jobs with Justice, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute that shows unpredictable or "just-in-time" scheduling makes it hard for families to plan childcare, pursue educational opportunities, or take on additional employment. About a third of service workers said they received their schedules less than three days in advance, another 30 percent said they were given less than 24 hour notice about changes to schedules. The study also foundthat in a typical month, the typical worker's schedule varied greatly—ranging from 25 to 38 hours.

“It’s frustrating and it’s stressful to not get hours. The money from 20 hours a week only gets me back and forth to work, but nothing more for my family,” says Stephanie Dunn, who works as a cashier at Marshalls.

The law would also require businesses offer additional hours to part-time workers before hiring new employees, with the goal of ensuring more stability and opportunities for benefits. It would particularly impact women (who report higher rates of penalties for requesting a different schedule) and communities of color. According to activists, 70 percent of D.C.'s service sector is comprised of black and Latino workers.

Some D.C. businesses have already adopted these practices. "We post our schedules at least two weeks in advance, and schedules aren’t changed without staff members being informed so that our employees knows when they’ll be working and can plan their lives around their work," writes Gina Schaefer, the owner of Logan Hardware, in a Washington Post op-ed in favor of the measure.

But not all local businesses are on board. "Restrictive scheduling hurts established businesses and discourages others from setting up shop," Ben's Chili Bowl co-owner Kamal Ali argued in an op-ed against the scheduling bill, though the the law wouldn't apply to Ben's since they don't have more than 40 establishments.

The national retail industry, meanwhile, has come out fighting against it. “For months, concerned retailers have attempted to discuss the flaws of this legislation with Councilman [Vincent] Orange in order to craft a solution that promotes certainty for employees but also provides the flexibility retailers and our employees need," Joe Rinzel, a vice president with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement. Our concerns fell on deaf ears, and we strongly urge council members to reject this hastily-considered, and flawed legislation.”

Still, a number of the chains that would be affected by the passage of the bill, like Urban Outfitters, J. Crew, Gap, and more, have already stopped using on-call scheduling. San Francisco has also ended the practice.

Ward 4's Brandon Todd voted against the bill, saying it would discourage local businesses from expanding, and Ward 6's Charles Allen argued that there are still to details that need to be worked out (like what specifically constitutes a weather or transit event that would exempt employers from fines). Orange, At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, and Ward 1's Brianne Nadeau voted to advance it to the full council.

The scheduling legislation comes on the heels of an agreement to raise the Disrict's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 and amid an ongoing discussion of a bill that would enact the most comprehensive paid family leave in the country. The committee also unanimously moved a bill yesterday that would mandate a 30-hour work week for office cleaners and other building-service employees.