In Focus

Aug 28, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Celebrate Local, State Victories on Labor Day: New Laws Promote Job Quality

By Liz Ben-Ishai

A $15 minimum wage. Paid sick days. Ordinances to prevent and redress wage theft. “Ban the box” laws limiting discriminatory questions about criminal records on job applications. Paid family leave insurance. Rules giving workers the right to request predictable or flexible job schedules..  

No, this is not an ode to progressive Canadian or European labor laws – rather, all are important advancements enacted in the U.S. in the past year – at the state and city levels. Across the country, despite gridlock in Congress, workers and advocates have been winning campaigns to enact new rules that will improve the quality of jobs, particularly those paying lower wages. This Labor Day, we should look at these successes – and beyond – for a model of how to improve the quality of jobs for all Americans.

In the wake of the Great Recession, job growth is concentrated in low-wage sectors that leave families struggling to get by, and the wages in these sectors are getting worse. Over the past four years, wages have declined for millions of U.S. workers in the top ten lower-wage occupations, including declines of more than 5 percent for personal care aides, restaurant cooks, food preparation workers, maids and housekeepers, and home health aides.

It’s not just wages that matter. As the new labor standards passed in states and cities suggest, high-quality jobs build on that foundation to provide stable and predictable hours, paid leave, and opportunities for advancement. Unfortunately, as a new report released today by CLASP shows, the growing number of low-wage jobs comes with a widening gap in access to quality jobs.

Many employer-provided benefits are in decline. Just in the past four years, access to retirement benefits has dropped 5 percent for those in the lowest quartile of wage earners. Financial struggles do not wait until retirement but begin on day one, when far too many workers can’t even take a single paid day away from work to bond with a new baby, let alone recover from childbirth. A mere 5 percent of low-wage workers have access to paid family leave. And don’t be fooled into thinking they can simply take vacation or sick days: nearly half of workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid sick, family, personal, or vacation time – zero paid leave of any kind. These workers must return to the job days after the arrival of a new child, or quit their jobs, plunging into economic uncertainty.

New research highlights the rampant problems of job schedule instability and unpredictability in low-wage jobs. Among early-career workers in hourly jobs, 40 percent receive one week or less advanced notice of their schedules; nearly 70 percent of mothers and 80 percent of fathers with young children experience significant fluctuations from week to week in the number of hours they receive. These issues were in the spotlight recently when a Starbucks’ employee’s desperate juggling act to care for her son while working erratic shifts received high-profile coverage, which prompted the Fortune 500 company to rethink its scheduling practices.

Yet the solutions to our crisis of job quality won’t be found in the efforts of individual companies, but in strong public policies, like those passed in many states and cities last year. This Labor Day, we should celebrate these victories, but as we do so, we must turn our attention to implementation efforts, ensuring that these new laws genuinely improve working families’ lives.

Access to good jobs shouldn’t depend on where in America you live. That’s why, in addition to state and local protections, we need national policies. As suggested in CLASP’s report, we should start with macroeconomic policies that support strong job growth, including the repeal of crushing sequestration cuts. For those who can’t find work, we need flexible unemployment insurance policies that recognize the realities of today’s workforce, including the participation of many working caregivers. To overcome the social, political, and economic problems created by growing inequality, we need public policies that help all workers, including low-income youth and adults of color, find good jobs.

Finally, the nation needs a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and fair scheduling policies.  In addition, we need beefed-up enforcement of labor standards that already exist, yet aren’t always upheld.

While we work towards Congressional action on these issues, which affect everyone in the country, workers, advocates, and elected officials in even more states and localities, are continuing to take matters into their own hands.

Here’s hoping that the movement for better job quality will see many more successes for all Americans, regardless of where they live, before Labor Day rolls around next year.

Click here to read the report.

Aug 15, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Starbucks’ Scheduling Changes are a Start, But We Need Public Policies

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Starbucks has announced that it will enforce its existing scheduling polices and eliminate some unfair practices following a recent New York Times article about the harrowing experiences of an employee grappling with an erratic, unpredictable schedule.

The Times article highlights the role of scheduling software, such as the programs made by Kronos, that enable managers to modify workers’ schedules in almost immediate response to slight changes in consumer demand, weather, shipment deliveries, and more. Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, said his product is “like magic.” But these computer programs are anything but magical for the millions of workers whose lives are upended by constantly shifting schedules.

Starbucks employee Jannette Navarro, a 22-year-old single mother to four-year-old Gavin, is profiled in the article; she details her severe struggles with a fluctuating schedule that she receives no more than three days before the beginning of the workweek. The article vividly describes how Navarro’s schedule wreaks havoc on her relationships with her aunt and boyfriend, forces her to count pennies to pay for her three-hour commute to work and child care, and dictates the ways she can manage the essentials for herself and her son, such as sleep, food, and housing.  

Navarro is far from alone; new research shows that nearly half of early career hourly workers receive their schedules one week or less in advance of the upcoming workweek. Three quarters of these workers experience fluctuation in the number of hours they receive each week.

Soon after the article was published, Starbucks showed that it could rein in the “magic” of its scheduling software. Cliff Burrows, Starbucks president in charge of U.S. stores, said the company would modify its software to “allow for more human input from managers into scheduling.” In addition, Burrows’ email to 130,000 employees said workers would no longer be required to “clopen” (close the store and then return to open a few hours later) and would receive at least one week advance notice of their work schedules (a policy that had been in place previously but was not being followed). Additionally, workers who, like Navarro, face long commutes will be moved to more convenient locations if possible.

These changes could dramatically improve the lives of Starbucks workers, particularly those with caregiving responsibilities. As the original Times story notes, volatile schedules can make maintaining child care—especially child care subsidies—extremely challenging. Navarro had to contend with a “perpetual blizzard of paperwork” to document her changing hours. For many, the challenges of keeping subsidies and child care slots eventually prove too difficult to overcome; these workers must scramble to find alternative arrangements for their children—often with informal care providers. This lack of stability is harmful to children’s development and extremely stressful for parents.

Navarro, who eventually lost her boyfriend and housing because of her volatile work schedule, was surprised by the news of Starbucks’ rapid response to her story. She told the Times she hopes other chains will adopt similar practices, because “with a stable schedule and advance notice of work hours, ‘you can get your life more back in order […] That way, you can make your kids proud.’”

While Starbucks’ efforts to ensure its managers are following company scheduling policies are commendable, further improvements – such as advanced notice of work schedules of at least two weeks – are needed. And, to make Navarro’s hope that other businesses will adopt worker- and family-friendly  scheduling policies a reality, we need public policies to set a floor for job schedule predictability and stability. Recently, the Schedules that Work Act was introduced in Congress by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA). This legislation would give all workers the right to request predictable, stable, and/or flexible schedules, with special provisions requiring employers to accommodate workers who are caregivers or students or who have second jobs or serious illnesses. It would also require employers in the restaurant, retail, and building cleaning industries to provide workers with at least two weeks advance notice of their schedules, as well as compensate workers when they are sent home from work early, required to work on-call, or must work a split shift.

While Congress considers this important legislation, advocates at the state and local levels are forging ahead to put an end to unfair scheduling practices. San Francisco’s Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance and a provision in Vermont’s Equal Pay Act give workers the right to request flexible and/or predictable work schedules. Also in San Francisco, a retail workers’ bill of rights currently under consideration could help to address the epidemic of underemployment while also tackling erratic scheduling issues. Elsewhere, advocates are hard at work organizing and strategizing as they prepare to take further action on this pressing issue of job quality and workers’ rights.

Aug 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Local, National Initiatives Aim to Improve Working Conditions for Low-Wage Workers

By Lauren French

Tiffany Beroid was working as a customer service manager at Walmart while attending community college classes to become a nurse. When she asked for a schedule adjustment that would allow her to continue classes, not only did the retailer refuse her request, it drastically cut her hours. She had to drop out of her college nursing program because she was not able to pay her tuition. The financial strain sent her family into a tail-spin—forcing her husband to work 24-hour shifts as a security guard just to keep them afloat.

Tiffany's story is not atypical. While the retail industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. economy, retail workers are among the lowest paid. The average wage for a woman working in retail is just $10.58 an hour; even in the unlikely event that she were able to secure full-time status, that wage would leave a family of three near poverty. In recent months, growing attention has also focused on the industry’s unpredictable and unstable scheduling practices, which make it nearly impossible for workers to budget, attend school, keep a second job, or plan for child care. On top of already low wages, retail workers' shifts often fluctuate from week to week and many receive their job schedules at the last minute. Workers are also often required to accept “on call” shifts, where they must keep their schedules open but have no guarantee of compensation if they do not end up getting called.

Last week, several events raised the profile of these issues. The City of San Francisco, which has consistently led the way on family-friendly workplace policies, is poised to take another big step. On Tuesday, City Supervisor Eric Mar introduced the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which would create new scheduling protections for retail workers in San Francisco. The legislation, which was moved forward by a coalition of labor, community, and small business advocates, would require employees to offer hours to existing employees before hiring more workers. The bill would also require that employees be paid for a minimum of four hours’ work when they are required to be on call or when shifts are canceled with less than a day’s notice. If adopted, the new law would apply to chain stores with 11 or more locations. In the fall, Supervisor David Chiu (who last year championed the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance) will introduce the second part of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which will advance additional provisions to protect retail workers.

The issue is also being addressed at the national level. On July 22, the Schedules that Work Act was introduced in Congress by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative George Miller (D-CA), and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The bill would give workers the right to request—and in some cases receive—scheduling changes without fear of retaliation. It would require employers in the retail, restaurant, and building cleaning industries to provide workers with advanced notice of their schedules and to compensate them when they are sent home from work before the end of their shifts or are required to work nonconsecutive hours in one day (a “split shift”).

Further underscoring the growing movement to improve working conditions for low-wage workers, Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) hosted a congressional briefing to highlight the many challenges faced by women in the retail sector. At the briefing, Tiffany Beroid shared her experience with Walmart and her work with the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Other speakers included Amy Traub of Demos and Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

While retail is not the only sector filled with low-wage and unpredictable jobs, it is one of the top sectors employing women—a trend economists expect to continue for the foreseeable future. According to Traub, there are currently 1.3 million women working in retail who are living in or near poverty; their economic security is constantly in doubt because of retail employment practices. Almost 30 percent of women in this sector who are working part-time would prefer to be working full time. Traub explained that contrary to popular belief, these workers are not high school students earning some extra pocket money. Ninety-three percent of low-wage women working in the retail sector are 20 years old and above. One in three of are supporting children, and almost 20 percent are the sole earner in the household.

Fortunately, there are policies we can adopt today to strengthen the economic security of these working women. The Schedules that Work Act would provide a comprehensive solution to scheduling challenges for workers nationwide. Until this legislation passes, local and state initiatives, like those proposed in San Francisco and passed in Vermont, are moving the needle for the millions of workers struggling to make ends meet in low-wage jobs.


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