In Focus

Jul 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Why We Need the Schedules that Work Act: Andrea's Story

By Liz Ben-Ishai

What is it like to have your life consumed by unpredictability and instability? What does it mean to worry about your economic security and your family’s well-being—but have almost no control over the forces that shape them? Many lower-wage workers know exactly what it’s like, as they struggle with job schedules that are extremely volatile, making it difficult to pay the bills, care for children, stay in school—and simply manage life.

Today, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are introducing a bill, the Schedules that Work Act, that could have a profound effect on the lives of workers who must deal with  employers that give them little notice of their job schedules; whose hours and schedules fluctuate from week to week; and who have little predictability, flexibility, and stability.

You can find out about the provisions of the bill here. But to really understand the bill, step into the shoes of a worker who has grappled with the very issues this law would help to address. Andrea, a  former retail worker, knows all too well what it means to have a schedule that doesn’t work. I had the privilege of listening to her story, and she’s allowed me to share it below.

Andrea’s Story*

Andrea, a hard-working single mom to two-year-old Ben, started working in a cosmetics store during the holiday season, when many retail outlets hire additional staff. After the holidays, Andrea was asked to stay on and join the team at the store.

The store’s typical practice is to send out schedules for the week by email on Sunday. This meant that she could be working Monday, but find out about it only the day before. Andrea’s weekly hours fluctuated wildly. One week she’d be scheduled to work 11 hours, the next 42. She was classified as part-time, which meant she was not entitled to overtime. On weekends, she would often be asked to work from 11:00 AM-9:00 PM or 12:00-10:00 PM.

Andrea’s son, Ben, has chronic asthma, so in addition to the typical illnesses that small children get, she had to deal with a more serious health issue that frequently meant he couldn’t go to child care or would be sent home early from child care. On days when Andrea couldn’t go into work, she would be under intense pressure to find someone to cover her shift, or she’d have to ask friends or family to care for a sick Ben. And, when Ben’s child care provider would call to say he needed to be picked up because he was sick, her boss wasn’t very understanding. Rather, Andrea would be punished with extra-long weekend shifts or by being denied requested days off, even when she submitted these requests long in advance—well before schedules had been made.

Read more of Andrea's story >>

Having a fair, reasonable schedule that allows workers to care for their families and pursue higher education shouldn’t be something reserved for those who are lucky enough to have an employer with unusually good practices. Thankfully, Andrea no longer has to deal with the chaos of an unpredictable schedule. It’s time for all workers to be free from the stresses and strains of unfair scheduling practices (not just those who happen to get hired by a particular employer)! That’s why we are thrilled about the introduction of the Schedules that Work Act.

Learn more about the bill >>

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

Jun 25, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

White House Summit Lifts Up Important Policy Changes

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Engaged dads who struggle with work/family conflict at higher rates than moms. Executive moms who juggle family responsibilities as their careers soar. Millennials who won’t entertain the idea of inflexible workplaces. Businesses that are taking radical steps to level the playing field for diverse employees with varied responsibilities outside of the workplace.

Culture change – or perhaps cultures changing – was in full view at the White House Summit on Working Families, which took place in Washington D.C., on June 23rd. Speaker after speaker emphasized that times have changed and workplace policies need to change with them. Workers shared encouraging stories about the flexibility and fair wages they enjoy. And businesses that offer paid leave and are committed to pay equity underlined that at least some employers are stepping up to the plate to make needed changes.  

Yet, cultural change has not touched every worker’s life. In fact, millions of workers – particularly lower-wage workers, women, workers from communities of color, and immigrant workers – continue to struggle in jobs with schedules that are unpredictable and inflexible, that don’t pay enough to cover the bills, and that offer no paid family leave or even sick days. What these workers need is for cultural change to spur public policy changes – they need minimum standards and protections.

The Obama Administration made a number of announcements at Monday’s Summit highlighting initiatives that should both fuel continued cultural changes critical to improving workplaces and establish public policies and legal protections for the most vulnerable workers. These include:

  • Paid leave: President Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Women’s Bureau will offer $500,000 to states that want to study paid leave. Three states, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, have already instituted paid family leave insurance programs. The Administration also announced plans to study these existing programs.
  • Workplace flexibility: The President issued a memorandum calling on heads of federal agencies to improve workplace flexibility options for their employees and give federal workers the right to request flexibility. Laws requiring private employers to give workers the right to request flexibility have recently passed in San Francisco and Vermont.
  • Access to child care: DOL will provide $25 million in grants for technical skill training for workers who need child care so they can participate in training activities. Funding will increase access to more flexible training programs and use creative strategies to accommodate participants’ caregiving responsibilities and child care needs.
  • Calls for Congressional action: The President called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Obama Administration is taking important steps towards creating family-friendly workplaces for all workers, a vision that was at the center of the inspiring event.

In addition to the state-based strategies for enacting paid family leave that were emphasized in the Executive Actions stemming from the Summit, many advocates, businesses, and workers are eager to see the passage of a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.

In his speech, President Obama acknowledged: “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us.  And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome.  It’s time to change that, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for their families.”  

Late in 2013, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. If passed by Congress, this program would not only move the U.S. off the shameful list of maternity leave hold-outs mentioned by the President and numerous other Summit speakers, but it would also ensure that workers who are seriously ill or who have sick family members could take time to care for themselves and their loved ones without losing all of their wages.

Such a program makes sense, not just for workers, but also for the economy and for businesses. At the Summit, employers ranging from giants like Johnson & Johnson to smaller businesses like Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique and Zazie Restaurant made the business case for fair workplaces policies. Many businesses, including Sugar Bliss and Zazie, are both putting in place good policies in their own firms and stepping up to support public policies, like the FAMILY Act, that would help all Americans. The Council of Economic Advisers released reports, timed to coincide with the Summit, which lay out the economic realities of paid leave and workplace flexibility. And the reality is, these policies make sense for everyone. 

After an invigorating day that affirmed the necessity for change, highlighted the commitments of our leaders, and showcased the important cultural shifts already underway, the Summit closed with a clear directive to keep pushing forward – to keep trailblazing, as the First Lady described it. Advocates will continue to blaze a trail to the long overdue public policies that workers need most: laws that give them the economic security to ensure they can do their jobs well while also caring for their families.  

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