In Focus

Nov 26, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Giving Thanks for Fair Schedules

By Liz Ben-Ishai 

While consumers stampede stores in search of a good deal, Black Friday has become a day for progressive labor advocates to highlight retailers’ exploitation of their low-wage workers. Indeed, as shoppers celebrate discounted electronics and clothing, many of the stores’ employees are taking home very little pay; they can only dream of affording the goods they’re selling. Beyond low pay, many of these workers face erratic scheduling, often learning of their shifts only days before they are scheduled to work; experiencing drastic variations in the total hours they receive each week; and even being sent home early with no pay. And it’s not just retail workers who experience these scheduling challenges; workers across a variety of sectors face similar obstacles.

While it’s tempting to launch into Black Friday condemnations for employers who exploit their workers, we want to pause to focus on the real holiday: Thanksgiving. Despite the many challenges lower-wage workers face in today’s economy, it’s worth taking a moment to be thankful for those businesses that are doing things right. While too many employers take the low road when it comes to workplace practices, a growing number recognize that there is not only a moral case to be made for fair treatment of workers; there’s also a business case. A new fact sheet from CLASP highlights evidence to support the benefits of fair schedules for employers. 

Take Equal Exchange , a business that distributes fair trade products like chocolate and coffee. The company has workers that are engaged in production, sales, and service work, including at its two cafés in Boston and Seattle. Rob Everts, Equal Exchange’s co-executive director, believes workers should be a central part of the company’s decision-making processes, including scheduling. Salaried workers can request flexibility and managers often accommodate their needs so that they can care for family and manage other non-work facets of their lives. Everts explains, “Our cafe managers work with baristas, who are hourly employees, to schedule shifts around their other obligations, allowing for considerable employee input into the scheduling process. On the production side of our business, employees work very consistent schedules from week to week and we never send anyone home early, unless they request it. If a machine breaks down, we simply assign workers to another task.” It’s all a part of the company’s ethos of treating workers with respect—and it makes business sense, too. Equal Exchange is a thriving business that does well as it does good.

In a totally different industry, another business leader shares a similar ethos to Everts. Marcia Finn, owner of Bright Start Childcare and Preschool in Washington, D.C., knows that her staff keep her business afloat ;after all, it’s these employees to whom parents entrust their precious children. Finn says, “Having happy employees is critical for the success of our business. Fair and flexible scheduling is one way we accomplish this.” Finn’s staff don’t just care for children at work; almost all of them have their own children at home. To accommodate staff members’ family responsibilities, Bright Start gives all employees advance notice of their job schedules. Additionally, employees work four 10-hour shifts, followed by one day off. Says Finn, “This arrangement provides stable care throughout the day for the children at the center while also allowing our workers more time with their families.” In an industry where workers are often barely scraping by and where high turnover reflects these struggles, Finn’s policies are making a big difference—and keeping her workforce stable, which is what her customers want.

Everts, Finn, and a growing number of employers are looking at the bigger picture, too.  In addition to implementing good workplace policies at their own businesses, they also support efforts to pass public policies guaranteeing all workers access to stable, predictable schedules. Both Everts and Finn have signed on in support of the Schedules that Work Act, a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year. If passed, the law would guarantee many workers the right to request flexibility without fear of retaliation and provide workers in certain industries with advance notice of their schedules, as well as extra compensation when they are subject to erratic schedules.  To learn more about these and other provisions, read CLASP’s breakdown of the bill.

So, as we enjoy Thanksgiving with our families, let’s take a moment to be grateful for employers that support their workers’ abilities to care for their families and otherwise manage their lives by providing fair schedules. But while we celebrate these employers, we must also look ahead. Americans need an economy governed by public policies that guarantee all workers fair schedules (and other facets of good quality jobs). Just days before Thanksgiving, the city of San Francisco served the nation such public policy.  By a unanimous vote,  the city council  approved a first-in-the nation measure that provides workers in chain stores with better scheduling.  Other cities and states are expected to follow this law with their own approaches on scheduling. We are giving thanks to employers such as Everts and Finn and to the policy makers in San Francisco. These employers and these policymakers appreciate that fair schedules help fuel prosperity for both business and workers. 

Learn about the Business Case for Schedules that Work. 

To learn more about scheduling policy issues, visit CLASP’s National Repository of Resources on Job Scheduling Policy.


Nov 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Job Quality Wins at the Ballot Box; Next Up: Federal Laws and Implementation

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Good jobs are a bipartisan issue—that was the message from voters in yesterday’s midterm elections.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—states where Republicans won gubernatorial and Congressional races—and in several cities in California, voters resoundingly supported initiatives to increase the minimum wage. Cities and counties in Wisconsin and Illinois also supported minimum wage initiatives in non-binding referenda. In Oakland, California; Trenton and Montclair, Jersey; and Massachusetts, workers were also winners with the passage of paid sick days ballot initiatives.

Advocates in all of these jurisdictions have worked tirelessly for this long-awaited victory. Their efforts have built consensus within communities across the country that no one should work full-time, but still live in poverty; parents shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of a sick child and earning a day’s wages; and workers shouldn’t have to show up at work when they ought to be at home recovering from illness. For working families, these are exciting outcomes that will help bolster the nationwide fight for improved job quality and counter the spread of inequality.

Massachusetts’ paid sick days victory at the ballot box comes on the heels of California’s recently passed statewide paid sick days legislation. Until last month, Connecticut was the only state to have such a law. But momentum for paid sick days standards has been building at the local level for some time, with San Francisco passing the nation’s first law in 2007, and an additional nine cities passing laws just in 2014. With a total of three state and 16 city paid sick days laws now in effect or soon to be enacted, the days of counting the country’s sick time protections on one hand are long gone.

In the wake of this week’s victories, ensuring proper implementation and enforcement of existing and newly passed paid sick days laws is critical. Going forward, advocates and government agencies must work together to ensure that recent (and less-recent) paid sick days laws are making a meaningful difference in the lives of working families. On both coasts, agencies charged with paid sick days implementation are already stepping up their game. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced a new set of strategies to boost employer compliance, now that the city’s law has been effective for more than two years. And New York City is ready to issue its first fines to employers that have failed to comply with the city’s recently enacted law.

Although the results of yesterday’s Congressional election may appear to make action at the national level less likely, it is critical that we continue to push for passage of the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631), the federal paid sick days bill that would guarantee millions more workers access to paid sick days, regardless of what state or city they live in. Indeed, this week’s clear show of bipartisan support for paid sick days, minimum wage, and other job quality measures—which echoes earlier polling results—will hopefully be an eye-opener for both newly elected and returning Members of Congress as they plan their legislative agenda for the coming session.  At the same time, as we advocate for passage of federal paid sick days legislation, local and state campaigns are more important than ever in paving the way to a national labor standard.

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.

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