A fair work week is the fair price of doing business right

AUGUST 21, 2018

For the life of us, we don’t understand why a minimum-wage worker shouldn’t have a regular schedule and get an extra hour of pay if asked to come in at the last minute.

Is it really too costly to pay a single parent a little extra for saying “no” to their kid’s ball game because they need to say “yes” to flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant?

Is it really too hard on the bottom line to shell out an extra $12 to a son or daughter who scrambles to reschedule their aging parent’s medical appointment so they can work an extra shift as an overnight security guard?

We don’t think so. We call it the cost of doing business, of treating workers like human beings. We also believe it’s good for business to cultivate loyalty by treating workers fairly.

Our counterparts at the Chicago Tribune claim it’s bad for business to require that workers be given a more predictable schedule, and to sweeten the pot just a bit when employees put aside their private lives at the 11th hour to accommodate the boss’s needs. The Tribune says Chicago’s proposed Fair Workweek Ordinance is a “bone-headed idea” that belongs “in the trash can.” 

We couldn’t disagree more. We think the City Council should follow Seattle, San Francisco and other cities, and pass the ordinance.

First introduced last year by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and Ald. John Arena (45th), the ordinance now has the support of some 30 aldermen. It was championed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, whose members are primarily retail and food industry workers.

The ordinance would require businesses with more than 50 workers to schedule hourly workers two weeks in advance. The requirement would apply only to those workers earning less than $50,000. If an employer adds extra time to a worker’s schedule, the worker would get one extra hour of “predictability” pay. If a worker’s shift is canceled at the last minute, the worker would be paid up to four hours as compensation.

“The instability it creates when you have no idea what day you’re even going to work is detrimental,” Pawar told us. “When you treat people with respect and dignity, it transforms what happens in the workplace.”

Unpredictable, last-minute scheduling is a widespread problem in Illinois, “resulting in underemployment and work-life conflicts with child care, parenting and other family obligations,” according to a study from labor researchers at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households points out the detrimental impact of unpredictable schedules on workers’ ability to earn a decent living. Greater predictability would foster “greater labor-force engagement,” the report found.

No surprise there. Workers want to work for a company that treats them well. In this “gig economy,” with an increasing percentage of people working multiple jobs to make ends meet, predictability is a must. 

A job at a restaurant or retail store is often a steppingstone to something better. But a worker can’t climb that economic ladder if he or she can’t schedule classes because they have no idea when they might have to work — or when a shift might be canceled, reducing their paycheck.

Another provision in the ordinance would require businesses to offer additional hours to existing workers before hiring more employees. A common practice among companies now is to limit the hours of workers so as to avoid paying full-time worker benefits. “They’re gaming the system to stay below the benefit threshold,” Pawar said.

A business, to be sure, can’t entirely predict the future. Customer demand ebbs and flows. Machinery breaks down. Weather is unpredictable. Workers call in sick and have to be replaced at the last minute.

But none of that is an excuse to treat workers like serfs at the beck and call of management.

In America’s expanding gig economy, there’s nothing “boneheaded” about demanding that employers respect that workers have other lives