The Washington Post: D.C. advances labor bill that would tell businesses how to schedule employees

Originally published by The Washington Post, Perry Stein
June 23, 2016

Photo by Tim Burgess

A D.C. Council committee advanced a controversial bill Thursday that would set strict guidelines telling employers in the city how much advance notice they must give their employees when scheduling their shifts.

If the full council approves the legislation, the District will become the second city in the country after San Francisco to end a practice widely used by companies known as “just-in-time” scheduling.

Employers use “just-in-time” scheduling to assign workers according to the time of day or month that they expect the most business, requiring them to be available at a moment’s notice and sometimes sending them home if business is slow.

The practice helps minimize labor costs, but it wreaks havoc on the lives of low-wage workers, making it difficult to schedule child care, commit to a second job or take part-time classes. The practice also results in erratic pay.

The “Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015” passed the D.C. Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs by a 3-2 vote. The full council is expected to take up the matter next week.

The bill endorsed by the committee on Thursday would prohibit employers with more than 40 locations nationwide from making changes to workers’ schedules less than two weeks in advance. The bill also requires those businesses to give extra hours to part-time workers, instead of simply hiring more part-time workers. Businesses that do not comply could be fined.

“It’s been a great day for working families,” said council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large), who introduced the legislation and chairs the council’s business committee.

The committee vote was a victory for organized labor, which has launched a national campaign against “just-in-time” scheduling, pushing legislation in cities, states and on the federal level.

“The bill is good for employees and employers,” said Ari Schwartz, a campaign organizer at D.C. Jobs with Justice, one of several groups that have been pushing for legislation in the District. “We are hoping the council sees it as something that works for everyone.”

But the business community is opposed, saying it interferes with the flexibility employers need.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group, is urging the council to reject the bill.

“For months, concerned retailers have attempted to discuss the flaws of this legislation with Councilman 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 spokesman for the association, said in a statement. “Our concerns fell on dead ears, and we strongly urge council members to reject this hastily-considered and flawed legislation.”

D.C. Jobs with Justice, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and Georgetown University released a survey last year of about 500 local workers showing the impact of erratic scheduling. Forty percent of workers surveyed said their initial schedules changed at least once per month. When schedules do change, they reported a 50 percent chance that they’ll get less than a two-day notice of the modification.

The legislation comes less than three weeks after the D.C. Council raised the city’s minimum wage to $15. The council is also considering legislation that would require employers to provide generous paid family leave.

If it passes the scheduling bill and paid family leave — on top of a $15 minimum wage — the District will become one of the most labor-friendly cities in the country.

A spokesperson for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the administration was reviewing the legislation and is looking to “engaging the Council and stakeholders on striking the right balance between worker friendly initiatives and employer mandates to ensure we continue to create more pathways to the middle class.”

The legislation could put Bowser in a tough political spot. Lobbyists for major national retailers were at theJohn A. Wilson Building this week, urging council members to vote against it.

When the legislation was originally introduced last July, it covered employers with more than 20 locations nationwide and said they could not change workers’ schedules less than three weeks in advance. It was changed to impact businesses with 40 locations or more and said schedules could not change with less than two weeks notice.

Council members Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) both co-sponsored the legislation but voted against it in committee.

Todd said on the dais that the bill could hurt businesses and dissuade local chains from expanding to 20 locations or more.

“I believe that the legislation before us could adversely affect the future hiring of new employees, seasonal employees and college students, and we must ask ourselves what this will do to our local economy,” he said.

Allen said that he wants to vote for the legislation, but thinks there are still details that need to be hammered out. For instance, he said, the bill exempts employers from the scheduling rules in the case for “severe weather” but does not define the term.

“It creates a massive amount of conflict between employers and employees,” he said. “I can’t vote on something that we might one day fix down the road. Right now, the bill has a whole lot of question marks.”

Orange said he would work out these questions before the council votes and does not think any of the questions raised Thursday are “insurmountable.”