In Focus

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.

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.

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