The Stranger: Secure scheduling rules look likely to get council OK

September 14, 2016

A majority of the Seattle City Council signaled support Tuesday for a proposal to give hourly workers at large companies more control over their schedules. In a committee meeting, five members of the council voted to forward legislation known as "secure scheduling" on to a full city council vote on Monday.

Save for two rounds of mostly technical amendments, the policy remains largely the same as the one crafted and released by Mayor Ed Murray's office last month. If passed, it would require companies with more than 500 employees to give workers at least two weeks' advance notice of their schedules and to pay them extra for last-minute changes to those schedules or for on-call shifts. (The "predictability pay" in the ordinance ranges from an hour of pay for a schedule change to half-time pay for the length of a shift that is canceled or must be worked on-call.)

The ordinance would also require employers to offer current workers more shifts before hiring new employees.

"At the beginning of the summer, many coworkers, including myself, had our hours drastically cut," one Starbucks workers told the council members Tuesday, "[but] Starbucks continues to hire more and more part-time employees."

The proposal is backed by labor unions and the union-funded advocacy group Working Washington (which, if this passes, will add another win to its record on the heels of the $15 minimum wage and Uber unionization). Big box stores like Costco and Target also oppose the law, calling it "complicated" and "burdensome."

Some workers in locally owned full-service sit-down restaurants have complained that the proposal would reduce their flexibility to pick up extra shifts, work multiple shifts a day, or stay late when business is good. In fact, most local restauranteurs would not be covered. (The law only applies to full-service restaurants with more than 40 locations worldwide and more than 500 employees.)

Throughout the ordinance, workers are allowed to voluntarily pick up extra shifts and, in most of those cases, their bosses would avoid predictability pay.

However, just how those extra shifts are offered to employees met some resistance Tuesday. The original legislation required bosses to communicate the extra shifts in some sort of group communication like email or text—an effort to avoid coercion. Some council members wanted to also allow for in-person shift offerings. Here's why: Imagine a scenario in which someone calls in sick and the boss needs to cover an extra shift. The law as originally written would require the employer to pay workers extra for asking them to stay or, to avoid that extra cost, offer that shift to workers using text or email. But how many food or retail workers are checking their phones for texts and emails during shifts? So, council members amended the legislation to allow employers to offer workers extra shifts in person. (Council Member Kshama Sawant and some members of Mayor Ed Murray's staff worried that bosses could coerce workers into taking shifts this way, and Sawant voted against this amendment.)

If it passes the full council next week, the scheduling law would be yet another responsibility for the Office of Labor Standards—a 12-person office charged with enforcing all of Seattle's labor laws for about 500,000 workers across the city, 140,000 of them low-wage workers. Today, just four of those 12 OLS staffers are investigators and cases can take months to close. The new scheduling law would be by far the city's most complex. The mayor has promised to expand OLS next year, but has not yet specified how he'll pay for that.

With five council members voting the bill through committee, its chances before the full council on Monday are good. If passed, the law would go into effect next July.