US News & World Report (op-ed): Americans should have a right to a fair workweek

By Carrie Gleason and Sejal Parikh

With the Fight for $15 winning higher wages for millions around the country, working people are now calling for reliable hours they and their families can count on. On that front, there was recently quite the one-two punch.

In Seattle, the city council passed a law that gives working people at large retailers, food chains and coffee shops a greater voice in their workweek and a chance to get more predictable hours. The move comes just a year after Seattle's vote for a $15 minimum wage helped launch a wave of wage hikes across the country. And in the nation's largest city, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support for a fair workweek for the city's fast food workers, with the city council pledging to act this year.

While the myth of a 9-to-5 job persists, it's just not the reality for the majority of people working in America. Today, most American workers are paid by the hour and the jobs more likely to be growing are in a fast food restaurant or a clothing store. These jobs are likely to feature shifting, unpredictable hours, often posted with just a few days' notice. A full 41 percent of early-career hourly workers receive their schedules with less than a week's notice and nearly half have no input. And more than 6 million people are working part-time but desperately seeking full-time work.

As a result, millions across America start each week unsure of when they'll be called in to work, or even for how many hours. Those with children or elderly parents will likely need to scramble to find a babysitter or caretaker. Those pursuing a degree may miss classes that week. This turbulence hurts working people and their families, causing more stress and family conflict. And it disproportionately falls on women and people of color, who make up the lion's share of the service industry workforce and primary caretakers at home.

It's no way to live, it's holding us back, and it's a major reason Americans are growing more frustrated.

After years of inaction, policymakers are starting to respond to their concerns. In Seattle, working people in retail, fast food and coffee shops came together to win a policy that ensures more reliable schedules. The policy provides two weeks of advance notice for work schedules, fair compensation for shifts changed at the last minute, the ability to have more say in one's schedule and the opportunity to access more hours. It also ensures those who work a closing shift and then the morning opening shift – infamously termed "clopenings" – have enough rest and are paid reasonably for going above and beyond.

Seattle and New York are just the tip of the iceberg. Legislation to establish a balanced, flexible workweek is on the docket in a slew of cities across the country. The District of Columbia this summer passed a historic law guaranteeing building janitors a minimum of 30 hours a week – a crucial boost in financial security for those families. In November, voters in San Jose will decide on a similar ballot measure that gives part-time workers the opportunity to work more hours. And Emeryville, California, which last year passed the nation's highest minimum wage, is now considering a fair workweek bill. The momentum took off in 2015 when San Francisco became the first city to enact fair workweek legislation with the Retail Worker Bill of Rights.

With such commonsense labor standards, we can begin to restore balance and flexibility to our lives.

Some businesses claim such laws are too costly. Some even say they already provide employee-friendly schedules. In fact, these policies are good for business, reducingturnover and letting employers save on training and retention. It makes for more productive employees. And clear guidelines ensure a level playing field for all businesses, ensuring everybody adheres to the same standards.

Today, many Americans are thinking about how to achieve a better work-life balance. But millions cannot make that choice – and in places like Seattle and New York City, they are asking for basic protections to give them the chance. It means more time with family, more time to pursue an education, more time to build a career. More time, in short, to build the American dream.

We need other states and cities to embrace the movement and provide hours that work better for hardworking people. Millions of Americans have spoken, and their message is clear: a fair workweek should be considered a right – not a privilege.