Council considers fair workweek standards for some employees

JUNE 15, 2018

Low-wage workers in the retail, food service, and hospitality industries in Philadelphia may soon have more security when it comes to their schedules and paychecks.

Fair workweek legislation was unveiled on Thursday that could provide these benefits and more to an estimated 130,000 hourly workers employed at certain businesses.

While flanked by more than three dozen supporters, Councilwoman Helen Gym said the legislation was in response to the failures at the state and federal levels to pass common sense business practices in order to reduce poverty.

“This bill is about standards of dignity,” she said.

The legislation would require businesses with at least 250 employees and 20 locations to provide the following to their employees:

Advanced notice of schedules;

A pathway to access more hours of work;

Compensation for last-minute schedule changes; and

Protection from retaliation.

A report last year found that 79 percent of Philadelphia’s hourly workers in the retail and restaurant sectors do not have a regular work schedule, and 45 percent cannot predict their monthly incomes.

Fair workweek standards are in effect in 15 other municipalities and states, including New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Oregon. Philadelphia already has a paid sick leave requirement in effect for some workers.

Groups supporting the legislation included the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, Black Clergy of Philadelphia, and Philadelphia Council of AFL-CIO, all of whom attended the unveiling of the legislation inside the City Council chamber.

But the proposal has its detractors.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia panned the legislation in a released statement as a rigid mandate that would restrict and discourage economic growth, as well as harm employees.

“This legislation is totally at odds with what our modern citizens expect from their employers: flexibility,” said the organization, which represents thousands of businesses and companies in three states.

The Chamber of Commerce said the changes also would lead to a reduction in hours for employees, discourage businesses from opening in Philadelphia, and penalize employers who make last-minute changes to employee schedules.

Although Gym introduced the legislation on Thursday, she did not expect the City Council to take it back up until the fall when the chamber returns from summer recess.

Questions remain whether the legislation will eventually become law. The legislation currently has eight sponsors.

Among the sponsors is Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, who is herself a former retail worker. She said workers shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and taking care of their children or family, or worry about retaliation from employers in the form of reduced hours.

“Workers, hard-working people — our service workers, our retail workers — deserve more respect,” Quiñones Sánchez said.

The legislation is about fairness, Councilman William Greenlee said.

“We’re going to hear, as we hear on many other issues, that is an anti-business legislation: No it’s not,” he said. “Because when you’re pro worker, you’re pro business.”