Employers and workers battle over Chicago's proposed predictable scheduling law. 'You never know what your paychecks are going to be like.'
A proposal that would require large Chicago employers to give workers at least two weeks advance notice of their schedules and compensate them for last minute changes will have to wait for the incoming City Council before it can move forward.
The proposed "fair workweek" ordinance aims to add Chicago to the growing list of cities imposing regulations that protect employees against unpredictable work hours that make it difficult for them to plan for child care, go to school, work a second job or have confidence that their paychecks will cover their bills. It was staunchly opposed by a coalition of major business interest groups that termed it the "restrictive scheduling" ordinance and warned that it would reduce flexibility valued by both employers and workers.
After months of negotiations over compromise legislation in advance of the City Council's final meeting Wednesday, the council's workforce development committee, chaired by outgoing Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, adjourned Monday night without taking a vote to advance the measure because it lacked quorum, kicking it to the next administration.
The pro-business Work Your Way coalition hailed the deferral so it can continue negotiations to make the legislation more employer-friendly.
But labor groups supporting the regulations vowed not to back down.
“While we are not surprised by today’s maneuver to sabotage a vote on the Fair Workweek Ordinance, we are eager to continue working on an even stronger set of workplace protections for hourly workers who have been abused and mistreated for too long," said a statement from the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Chicago Fair Workweek Coalition. "And we’ll be met by a more progressive City Council and a mayor who has already said she supports the concept of fair workweek regulation."
A spokeswoman for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, who will preside over her first City Council meeting May 20, said she is reviewing the current draft of the ordinance. Lightfoot "believes that Chicago needs a Fair Work Week that will guarantee stable schedules to hundreds of thousands of our workers," her spokeswoman's statement said. "Too many Chicagoans are either saddled with workweeks that never end, or are working too few hours to make ends meet."
The proposed ordinance would apply to employers with at least 100 workers and to restaurants with more than 250 employees and 30 locations globally, though there are exemptions for the construction industry, the city and other governmental agencies. Franchisees who own four or fewer locations also would be exempt.
Covered employees include all hourly workers and salaried employees earning less than $50,000 a year, but not those who work in sports stadiums or as live-in staff at residential institutions for the disabled. Workplaces with collective bargaining agreements would be exempt as long as they explicitly waive the ordinance in their contracts.
If it's approved, employers would have to give at least 10 days advance notice of workers' schedules starting April 1, 2020, and that would grow to a minimum of 14 days two years later. If an employer changes a worker's schedule less than two weeks before the shift, it would have to give the worker an hour of "predictability pay" at their regular wage rate. If an employer cancels or reduces hours within 24 hours of the start of a previously scheduled shift, they would have to pay the worker half of what would they have made had they worked.
The proposed ordinance does not prevent workers from trading shifts or requesting changes to their schedule. Employers can also change an employee's hours without penalty when it is mutually agreed upon in writing.
The ordinance includes a "right to rest" provision that gives employees the right to decline work hours that start less than 10 hours after the end of a shift. If an employer doesn't get written consent from workers willing to work such shifts, they have to pay them time and a half.
It also requires that employers offer existing part-time workers extra hours before hiring new people, meant to address underemployment that makes it hard for low-wage workers to make ends meet.
Chief sponsor Ald. John Arena, 45th, who introduced the ordinance last summer and has 29 co-sponsors, said employees need the protections. In a survey of more than 1,700 workers conducted by the University of Illinois, over a third said they get their schedules with less than a week's notice and 40 percent said they want to work more hours. More than 70 percent said unpredictable work schedules interfere with time for family and home lives.
"We know that there are not enough employees under collective bargaining agreements and that is why this ordinance is necessary," Arena said last week during a committee hearing on the proposal. "We need to protect good workers from bad employers and make sure good employers are not victimized by this ordinance."
But the pro-employer Work Your Way coalition -- which counts the Illinois Restaurant Association, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce among its more than two dozen members -- says the latest version of the bill is overly broad and punitive.
“The conversations that we’ve had with labor have been under the framework that the employer is bad, that the employer is out to get the employee,” said Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel at the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “It is really hard to reach a compromise with someone you see as the enemy.”
The business coalition has offered an alternative proposal that would limit the scheduling restrictions to restaurants, retail and hotels, and allow employers to establish a voluntary standby list of employees willing to have their schedules changed without penalty. It also wants to nix the requirement that existing employees be offered extra hours before an employer can make new hires, a provision that could be costly because employers are required by the Affordable Care Act to offer health insurance to full-time employees.
"It would not allow us to control our part-time versus full-time base," Triche Dawood said at the committee hearing Thursday. "If we lose control over that delicate balance in our workforce, then we lose control of our expenses."
The Work Your Way coalition has called the ordinance "a solution in search of a problem," pointing to a survey it commissioned of low-wage hourly workers in Chicago that found 74 percent prefer flexible scheduling and 85 percent are satisfied with the advance notice they currently get of their schedules.
Some industries are particularly concerned about the ability to make abrupt staff changes as the need arises.
Susan Lopez, president at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, said the rules are "unworkable and inappropriate" in health care environments that must staff up abruptly for events like flu outbreaks. She has estimated the hospital would be on the hook for $3 million in predictability pay per year if hospitals had to comply with the proposed law.
"Our hospital would be punished for responding to changes in patient census and severity of patient illness," she said.
Opposition is also strong from the hotel industry, where 60 percent of rooms are booked within two weeks and 15 percent are booked same day of check in, said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. The ordinance exempts hotel banquet events that see attendee counts increase by more than 20 percent last minute, but Jacobson said the measure still represents a significant burden.
Staffing agencies also are seeking an exemption from the law given that their business model is to provide temporary employees when businesses need last-minute fill-ins, said Paul Rosenfeld, a lobbyist for the Staffing Services Association of Illinois.
"Our folks don't want to be scheduled," Rosenfeld said. "They want to be able to have flexibility and have control of their own schedules."
But some workers in other sectors said the lack of control is the problem.
Loronzo Warren says the volatility of his hours makes it hard to budget. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Loronzo Warren Jr., 18, works part-time at a clothing store at Chicago Ridge mall to pay for college, and says the volatility of his hours makes it hard to budget. He gets anywhere from 10 to 22 hours a week and the schedule isn't posted until the day before the week begins.
"You never know what your paychecks are going to be like or how much money you can actually spend to take care of yourself because you don't know much you're going to make the next week," said Warren, who lives with his dad on Chicago's southeast side and helps pay for food and basic household supplies. As a result, he has not been able to keep up with his car's maintenance, and he worries that if he doesn't cover his college expenses by June he won't be able to transfer his credits to a four-year college.
Zach Koutsky, legislative and political director of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 881, said it's often women and people of color who are subject to erratic schedules.
"All we're asking for is a little bit of stability, a little bit of dignity and a little bit of thought put into how they are brought into work and utilized as workers," he said.
"My gut tells me that we need to get to the root of some of the bad employment practices," Tunney said during last week's hearing. "I do feel that this ordinance is an over-reach that will have more unintended consequences that will really in the long term I think hurt employees."