Promoting policy solutions that improve job quality is an essential part of CLASP's agenda to reduce poverty, support families, reward effort and expand opportunity. CLASP's advocacy on work/life and job quality concentrates on paid leave, predictable and responsive schedules, and advancement opportunities.

Job Scheduling and Responsive Workplaces

CLASP promotes responsive workplaces through policies and practices such as part-time equity, flexible scheduling, advance notification of schedules, guaranteed minimum hours, teleworking options, consistent and predictable hours of work, and more. Read more>>

Sick Days and Family Medical Leave 

CLASP advocates for state and federal policies that prevent workers from being denied time to tend to their own or a family member's health, or care for a new child. These policies include earned sick days, paid family and medical leave insurance, and expansions of the Family Medical Leave Act.
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CLASP engages with progressive business associations and directly with business owners to promote the business case for improved job quality policies.  Read more>>

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Jul 25, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Seattle Scheduling Survey Shows Racial Disparities, Significant Hardship, and Need for Public Policy Solutions

By Liz Ben-Ishai

A report released last week demonstrates that many Seattle service workers are experiencing profound scheduling challenges: insufficient hours, inadequate notice of schedules, on-call work, and lack of rest between shifts. The results of the survey, which was commissioned by the City of Seattle, make a clear case for public policies that will alleviate the stress that volatile schedules place on workers, families, and the economy.

In many ways, the data speak for themselves – they highlight the widespread hardship experienced by workers with volatile and challenging schedules; they disprove claims made by some employers and employer groups suggesting that scheduling challenges do not truly exist; and perhaps most significantly, they lay bare the extent to which people of color and other minority groups disproportionately experience scheduling challenges.

Here are some of the most compelling findings in the report, which is based on a survey of approximately 350 managers and 700 employees, primarily in the retail and food service industries:

  • Insufficient hours are a major problem for workers.
    • Nearly one-third of respondents say they want more hours.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: More than half of African American workers, 43 percent of Asian American/Pacific Islander workers, and 52 percent of workers who speak Chinese at home wanted more hours. In comparison, 26 percent of Whites reported wanting more hours.
  • Many workers receive little notice of their schedules.
    • One quarter of workers and 21 percent of employers report that employees receive three days or less advance notice of their schedules.
    • 45 percent of employees reported receiving one week or less advance notice.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: Two-thirds of African Americans and Asian American/Pacific Islanders reported receiving one week or less advance notice. More than three-quarters of workers who speak Chinese at home and 55 percent of those who speak Spanish at home reported receiving one week or less notice.
  • Scheduling causes hardship for many workers.
    • One-third of workers said scheduling causes a serious or somewhat of a problem for their family and home life.
    • Nearly one-quarter of workers reported that their work schedules posed problems for taking classes.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: Among workers who speak Spanish at home, scheduling posed serious or somewhat of a problem for 40 percent with regard to family and home life and 43 percent with regard to paying the bills. Among African American workers, 40 percent said scheduling posed serious or somewhat of a problem for taking classes.
  • On-call work is pervasive and involuntary.
    • 42 percent of respondents reported working on call.
    • 68 percent of employees who work on call do so involuntarily.
    • Half of respondents who worked on call received less than six hours of notice.
  • Managers’ survey responses do not bear out employer group assertions about the potential ill effects of scheduling policies on workers.
    • When asked how they might react to a requirement that workers who face last-minute schedule changes be compensated with “predictability” pay, most managers did not indicate that they would reduce staffing levels or hours per employee.
      • The overwhelming majority of managers (82 percent) said that they would increase staffing levels, would keep staffing levels the same, or did not know how they would respond.
      • About 70 percent said they would keep hours per employee the same or that they wouldn’t know what they would do.

This data in the report can only be seen as a shot in the arm for workers who are hoping that the city will pass fair scheduling legislation. However, opponents of fair schedules could take up one ambiguous point in the report and use it to undermine its overwhelmingly positive implications. A point made in the report suggests that advance notice is not necessarily a priority for workers, particularly beyond one week. Indeed, the report overall suggests:

  • Scheduling challenges – including both predictability and access to hours – should be seen as essential parts of a whole, not as competing variables.

The authors of the report suggest that predictability is primarily a concern for those who are already able to make ends meet based on the number of hours they receive. They write, “For shift workers in an economic position to make ends meet, predictability in scheduling is a sensible secondary goal. […] Only if [workers’ average hours are] high enough is it important to consider ironing out fluctuations around that average.” This is a problematic assertion since it is made without evidence; its inclusion in the report is troubling because it  may lead readers to underestimate the importance of predictability.

The study does not provide evidence demonstrating that workers who need or want more hours are less likely to value increased notice of their schedules. It also does not provide any evidence indicating that workers earning less per week or lower wages per hour are less likely to value notice. Thus, the claim that predictability is secondary appears to be based on an assumption rather than a fact.

  • Predictability and the ability to make ends meet go hand-in-hand.

While paying the bills may seem more urgent than knowing when one is working, in many cases predictability is also essential for workers to remain employed, maintain access to needed public benefits, and hold needed second jobs. For example, workers with children may be unable to maintain their child care arrangements if they do not know when they will be working; without child care, many workers are forced to quit their jobs or risk being fired when they are absent or late. To maintain eligibility for some forms of public assistance, workers must show up to appointments or risk being sanctioned or having their benefits cut off. With little notice of their schedules, meeting this requirement becomes challenging.

Access to sufficient hours is undoubtedly very important to many Seattle workers – the evidence is in on that score. But so is predictability. This is why effective scheduling legislation should include both access-to-hours provisions and sufficient notice of schedules.

  • Asking survey respondents to weigh their preference for advance notice against wage increases does not yield a clear answer about the ideal amount of notice.

The authors of the study used contingent valuation (CV) methods to assess the value workers place on advance notice. Workers were asked to weigh a job offer with a specified amount of notice in comparison to an offer with a higher rate of pay. The study found that workers were willing to forgo a significant increase in pay to receive one week of notice, but were less willing to do so for additional weeks of notice. This finding leads the authors to suggest that one week of notice is the preferred amount for many workers. Since many already receive this amount of notice, they argue that a law requiring one week of notice would be of minimal value.

This line of questioning underestimates people’s capacities to voice their specific preferences regarding advance notice. The survey did not ask workers directly, “How many weeks of notice would best meet your needs?” or anything similar. There is a certain irony here: so much of the debate about scheduling turns on workers’ lack of voice on the job. Those with the most volatile schedules typically lack collective bargaining agreements or other mechanisms to have their preferences and needs heard in the workplace.

These survey questions also have other limitations. Virtually no worker will face a situation where she must choose between a higher rate of pay or more notice, so this hypothetical choice does not offer a realistic picture of workers’ preferences. Moreover, the retail and restaurant industry workers surveyed are largely low-wage workers. (The report does not specify the average wage of respondents, but data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that most retail salespersons and food service workers in the region are earning low wages.) Even before considering their access to sufficient hours, we know that – despite the city’s leadership on minimum wage – most are not making family-sustaining wages. Given this context, the fact that so many would forgo a raise in order to receive one week’s notice says a lot about the importance of predictability. And the fact that fewer would forgo a raise to receive two week’s notice may simply suggest that workers need both a raise and more notice of their schedules – not that they don’t want or need more than one week’s notice.

Seattle workers – and all US workers – need higher quality jobs. They need higher wages, access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, anti-wage theft protections, and fair schedules, among other standards. Seattle is leading the charge among major US cities on many of these fronts. With this report in hand, the city is now poised to move forward on a set of strong policies to improve workers’ schedules and, in turn, their lives. To truly make a difference, the city should advance scheduling legislation that addresses multiple facets of volatility in workers’ lives.



Paid Sick Days

As part of its work life and job quality work, CLASP advocates for state and federal paid sick days policies that will allow more workers to take time off when they need to tend to their own or a family member's health. READ MORE »
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