In Focus

Jun 19, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

D.C. Workers Have Too Few Hours, Too Little Notice

By Liz Ben-Ishai

In a town where highflying lobbyists, Capitol Hill power brokers, and political campaign aficionados are known to work long, arduous hours, a “West Wing” fantasy can distract people from poverty and inequality. According to a new study, workers in Washington, D.C. often receive their schedules with just a few days’ notice. They also struggle to get enough hours to make ends meet and are expected to make themselves available at all hours of the day despite rarely receiving work.

The study, released last week by DC Jobs With Justice, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative, highlights a set of scheduling challenges with which workers are contending nationwide. The groups’ survey found that 80 percent of respondents wanted more hours; in the absences of sufficient hours and pay, nearly a quarter of workers in the study were working multiple jobs.

A national study of early-career workers ages 26 to 32, released last year, found that nearly 40 percent were receiving one week or less notice of their job schedules. The D.C. study takes this question to a finer gradation. It finds that nearly half of surveyed workers in D.C. receive less than one week’s notice and one-third receive less than three days’ notice. Among retail and restaurant workers, nearly one-third receive less than 24 hours’ notice of schedule changes. Workers with families to care for, classes to attend, second jobs, or other obligations cannot sustain these fly-by-night scheduling practices.

The movement for fair, sustainable job schedules is gaining momentum across the country. Over the past year, public concern around unfair job scheduling practices has led about 10 states to introduce legislation to expand workers’ rights. The federal Schedules that Work Act, first introduced last year, is likely to be re-introduced in the coming months. And last year, a coalition of worker’s rights groups in San Francisco, led by Jobs With Justice, helped pass the nation’s first “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights,” which includes advance notice of schedules, compensation for last-minute schedule changes, and access to hours for part-time employees.

The new D.C. survey shows that action is needed in the District, too. Some employers, such as child care center owner Marcia St. Hilaire-Finn, are doing the right thing. “Having happy employees is critical for the success of our business,” St. Hilaire-Finn said. “Fair and flexible scheduling is one way we accomplish this.” She provides at least two weeks’ notice to her employees and accommodates staff requests for flexibility.

Unfortunately, too many employers are ignoring the business case for fair scheduling. That’s why public policies to create minimum standards for workers’ schedules are needed. Employers like St. Hilarie-Finn and others agree that policy solutions are needed to extend the benefits they already extend to all workers.

In the coming months, we expect the momentum to continue on this critical job quality issue—here in the District and all across the country.

Read the report >>

Visit CLASP’s National Repository of Resources on Job Scheduling Policy >>

May 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave: Just What the Doctor Ordered for National Women’s Health Week

By Felicia Onuma

As we celebrate National Women’s Health Week (NWHW) this week (May 10-16, 2015), advocates, policymakers, and others will mark the progress made in improving health care for women. One sometimes overlooked, but critical, ingredient to health care is access to paid sick time and paid family and medical leave. These worker protections ensure that workers have the time to see their health care providers and attend to their health needs.  Today, in honor of NWHW, CLASP is releasing a brief on the importance of paid leave to preventive health care.

NWHW was instituted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health in 1999 to draw attention to strategies that help women lead healthier, longer, and safer lives. One critical aspect of achieving these goals is increasing routine health checkups and screenings for women in order to prevent illnesses, diseases, and other health problems—or at least detect them at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be effective. Yet, without paid leave, this avenue to better health may be a nonstarter for far too many women.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) an increasing number of Americans, especially low-income earners, now have access to health care. According to most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 16.4 million Americans who were previously uninsured have gained coverage since the ACA took effect. Besides expanding health care access, one particularly welcome aspect of this health care reform law is that it covers 100 percent of preventive care for women’s health. This means that women who seek a wide variety of preventive services, ranging from mammograms and well-woman visits to contraception, can get them without any without any out-of-pocket expenses.

Despite this important legal step forward in access to preventive care,  too many women do not have take the time they need to actually get these services. With our country’s labor standards seriously lagging behind those in much of the rest of the world, an inordinate number of Americans cannot take time away from work to reap the benefits of this reform. Today, more than 40 million workers in the U.S. (39 percent) are without access to paid sick days and nearly 95 million workers (87 percent) have no paid family leave. Among low-wage workers earning $15,000 or less per year, 80 percent do not have paid sick days. Similarly, 80 percent of part-time workers working fewer than 20 hours per week do not have paid sick days.

Lack of access to earned sick days impedes many women from heeding the advice of medical practitioners to seek preventive health care. In a 2014 study, researchers found that women without sick leave were 12 percent less likely to undergo breast cancer screening than women with sick leave. According to HHS, nearly 10 percent of women who delayed prenatal care were unable to take time off work or school to obtain medical care. Furthermore, those with an insufficient amount of sick days usually opt to save their only available leave to tend to their children, often times skipping or delaying care for themselves.

For their own or a family member’s longer-term illness, or to welcome a new baby, about 60 percent of workers have access to unpaid job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, even for those who qualify for FMLA leave, the financial cost of taking unpaid time off is often impossible to bear. Among workers with unpaid FMLA leave, 52 percent deferred care and 50 percent chose to forgo care altogether because they could not afford to take leave or were fearful of losing their jobs.  

Fortunately, a growing number of states and cities – 21 jurisdictions – have now passed paid sick days laws. Three states have enacted paid family leave programs. And a growing number of states, cities, and even counties are providing their own public employees with paid family and medical leave. Dozens of campaigns to pass paid sick days and paid family leave at the national, state, and city level are gaining momentum around the country.  This important movement forward is worth celebrating this National Women’s Health Week. At the same time, this occasion presents an opportunity to step up the intensity of our calls for further action on paid leave. It’s just what the doctor ordered for women’s health, and for the nation.

Read CLASP’s brief on paid leave and preventive health care >>

Apr 15, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

One year later, the results of Jersey City’s Earned Sick Days law are promising

By Felicia J. Onuma

One year after Jersey City’s earned sick days ordinance took effect, the verdict is in: workers and business are both winning big. Contrary to opponents’ predictions, a new study shows that more than one-third of employers have experienced higher employee productivity, made better-quality hires, and had less employee turnover since implementing the law. Earned Sick Days in Jersey City: A Study of Employers and Employees at Year One, published by Rutgers’ Center for Women and Work, echoes the findings of numerous other reports on the effects of earned sick days laws on employers.

In September 2013, Jersey City became the first jurisdiction in New Jersey to adopt an earned sick days ordinance. The law, which took effect in January 2014, enables workers in businesses with 10 or more employees to earn up to 5 paid sick days each year. Workers in businesses with 9 or fewer employees can earn up to five unpaid sick days.

For most Jersey City businesses, compliance with the law has not been detrimental. Most employers have observed little change in employee behavior. Moreover, many have noted significant benefits. More than 92 percent of employers reported no change in the use of paid sick days following implementation of the law; another 4 percent reported that their employees were taking fewer sick days. More than one-third of employers reported more productivity, less turnover, and improved quality of new hires.

As expected, Jersey City’s law is also helping workers. More than half of Jersey City employees reported earning at least one sick day since the law took effect. The percentage is even higher (60 percent) among workers who have been with the same employer for more than a year. Furthermore, nearly 72 percent of employees who had more sick days due to the law reported higher job satisfaction. 

Jersey City’s experience is not unique. In other jurisdictions with sick leave laws, the majority of employers are complying with standards and reaping their benefits. In San Francisco and  Connecticut, 82 percent and 93 percent of employers, respectively, provide paid sick time to their employees as required by law. Further, the majority of San Francisco and Connecticut employers, as well as those in Seattle, reported no change in costs, profitability, customer service, or employee morale due to earned sick days standards.

New Jersey municipalities are leading the charge on sick days nationwide. Across the state, Jersey City and seven other cities (Newark, Passaic, East Orange, Patterson, Irvington, Trenton, and Montclair), have implemented earned sick days laws. This report on Jersey City’s experience offers encouragement and insight to other jurisdictions as they work to implement their own laws.

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