The Fight to Make Bad Jobs Better

Originally published 12/4/2017

This is the fourth episode in a six-part video series about the future of work. Follow the series at vox.com/shiftchange.

As of November 26, 2017, fast food companies in New York are required to post worker schedules 14 days in advance. If they change the schedule within that window, they will pay an extra fee to the workers who are affected. And before they hire more people, they must offer the available hours to their existing part-time workers.

These are what worker advocates call “fair work week” measures. San Francisco, Seattle, and the state of Oregon have passed similar regulations for retail and fast food workers, with the goal of securing predictable schedules and paychecks for low-wage hourly workers.

These efforts, paired with increases in some state minimum wages and paid sick leave rules, are a response to the “bad jobs” of today’s service economy: Hourly work with low pay, poor benefits, and sometimes chaotic schedules that make it difficult for workers to plan their lives. Now that the economy has recovered from the great recession, advocates are pushing back against cost-cutting measures that employers relied on to keep labor costs down.

E-commerce and automation will likely limit traditional job growth in retail and fast food, but advocates won’t let conversations about job quantity silence those about job quality, especially with the unemployment rate last reported at 4.1 percent.

“We're seeing automation take off in a lot of areas, in warehouses. We're seeing robots do the shelf stocking. We're seeing self-checkout with the cashiers,” said Carrie Gleason, who directs the Fair WorkWeek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy.

“But I think that there's still gonna be a lot of jobs in this country. And when we think about what to do about it, raising the bar and setting new protections for people, making these jobs good jobs, and demonstrating how good jobs are good for the economy, that's, to me, the best response.”

To learn more about the economic trends that have squeezed low-wage service workers, watch the video above, and check out vox.com/shiftchange for the rest of this series.