In Focus: Employees and Responsive Workplaces

Aug 9, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Public Policies Fail to Protect Growing US Latino Workforce

This is a special guest post by Crisanta Duran, majority leader in Colorado's House of Representatives.

By Rep. Crisanta Duran

Latinos are essential to making the American – and Coloradan – economy work. In fact, Latino workers are a vital part of the workforce with a notably high participation rate. Yet, as a new brief from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) highlights, instead of propelling them into the middle class, Latino workers’ jobs are too often holding them back. These jobs not only pay low wages, but also leave workers without access to paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, fair schedules, and employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. As Colorado House Majority Leader, I found critical evidence in this CLASP brief to support what my constituents and workers throughout the state tell me every day:  for Latinos, for the state, and for the nation, it is critical that we advance public policies to improve job quality.

While national policies to improve the lives of all workers would be ideal, progress at the federal level is lagging, to put it mildly. Last week, on August 5, advocates, workers, and families celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives some workers access to unpaid, job protected leave. In 2001, reflecting on the first bill he signed into law, President Clinton acknowledged, “Our work is not done[…] we must build on the success of FMLA by giving more workers the protections of the act and finding new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so.” 

Fifteen years after Bill Clinton issued this call for paid leave, the nation is still waiting for federal action – but a lot has changed in the intervening years. Since the FMLA went into effect, the composition of the US labor force has shifted: in 1990, shortly before its passage, there were about 10 million Latinos in the US workforce. In 2014, there were more than 26 million Latinos in the workforce. Over the course of a quarter century, Latino workers doubled their share of the total US workforce, from about 8 to 16 percent. Yet, too many of the growing number of jobs Latinos hold cause immense volatility in their families’ lives. CLASP’s brief shows that nearly 60 percent of Latinos lack access to even unpaid FMLA. And few Latinos have access to paid leave – likely the reason why an astounding 40 percent of new Latina moms take no leave at all after the birth of a child. Latinos can’t wait for action on paid leave any longer.

I am hopeful that a new Congress will enact desperately needed job quality laws for the benefit of all Americans, but in the meantime, my colleagues and I are working to advance such laws in our state legislature. I am a strong supporter of Colorado’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act, which would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement when they need to care for a family member (including a new baby) or recover from their own serious illness. This program will provide much-needed stability for Coloradans, so they don’t have to choose between caring for a sick family member or paying their bills.

Another recent anniversary highlights the lack of progress Congress has made on job quality in recent years. Last month marked seven years since the federal minimum wage was raised. Stagnating at $7.25, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with increases in workers’ productivity and the rising cost of living. And Latinos around the country are disproportionately impacted; CLASP’s brief shows that while 39 percent of all full-time workers in the U.S. earn less than $15 per hour, an astounding 58 percent of full-time Latino workers have wages below this threshold.

In Colorado, more than half of Latinos are employed in low-wage occupational groups. While Colorado’s minimum wage is higher than the federal wage at $8.31 per hour, it’s still a far cry from a living wage. That’s why I support a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020; it would be a step in the right direction for all Coloradans, and given current disparities in our state, it would help to lift up many hard-working Latino families.

As CLASP points out, Latino workers don’t just trail behind their White counterparts in wages and family leave; they also struggle with other aspects of job quality that make it hard to pay the bills and care for families. For example, nationwide, nearly half (45 percent) of Latino workers ages 26 to 32 receive their work schedules one week or less in advance, making it difficult to arrange child care, go to school, or hold a second job. Workers in Colorado, including Latinos, struggle with schedules, too; 16 percent of Coloradans who work part-time are doing so involuntarily – that is, they want to work more hours, but can’t get them. In addition, fewer than half of Latino workers in the US have access to even a single paid sick day.

Job quality matters not only for economic vitality in our communities, but also for civic participation. As a board member of the NALEO Educational Fund, I’m committed to supporting policies that will improve political engagement in Latino communities. Economic security is essential to civic engagement – working families need good jobs in order to be able to fully participate in their communities and our political system. It’s just one more reason why it’s time for policymakers at the local, state, and federal level to prioritize policies that improve the quality of jobs. 

Read the brief here>>

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Jul 25, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Seattle Scheduling Survey Shows Racial Disparities, Significant Hardship, and Need for Public Policy Solutions

By Liz Ben-Ishai

A report released last week demonstrates that many Seattle service workers are experiencing profound scheduling challenges: insufficient hours, inadequate notice of schedules, on-call work, and lack of rest between shifts. The results of the survey, which was commissioned by the City of Seattle, make a clear case for public policies that will alleviate the stress that volatile schedules place on workers, families, and the economy.

In many ways, the data speak for themselves – they highlight the widespread hardship experienced by workers with volatile and challenging schedules; they disprove claims made by some employers and employer groups suggesting that scheduling challenges do not truly exist; and perhaps most significantly, they lay bare the extent to which people of color and other minority groups disproportionately experience scheduling challenges.

Here are some of the most compelling findings in the report, which is based on a survey of approximately 350 managers and 700 employees, primarily in the retail and food service industries:

  • Insufficient hours are a major problem for workers.
    • Nearly one-third of respondents say they want more hours.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: More than half of African American workers, 43 percent of Asian American/Pacific Islander workers, and 52 percent of workers who speak Chinese at home wanted more hours. In comparison, 26 percent of Whites reported wanting more hours.
  • Many workers receive little notice of their schedules.
    • One quarter of workers and 21 percent of employers report that employees receive three days or less advance notice of their schedules.
    • 45 percent of employees reported receiving one week or less advance notice.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: Two-thirds of African Americans and Asian American/Pacific Islanders reported receiving one week or less advance notice. More than three-quarters of workers who speak Chinese at home and 55 percent of those who speak Spanish at home reported receiving one week or less notice.
  • Scheduling causes hardship for many workers.
    • One-third of workers said scheduling causes a serious or somewhat of a problem for their family and home life.
    • Nearly one-quarter of workers reported that their work schedules posed problems for taking classes.
    • Racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities are substantial: Among workers who speak Spanish at home, scheduling posed serious or somewhat of a problem for 40 percent with regard to family and home life and 43 percent with regard to paying the bills. Among African American workers, 40 percent said scheduling posed serious or somewhat of a problem for taking classes.
  • On-call work is pervasive and involuntary.
    • 42 percent of respondents reported working on call.
    • 68 percent of employees who work on call do so involuntarily.
    • Half of respondents who worked on call received less than six hours of notice.
  • Managers’ survey responses do not bear out employer group assertions about the potential ill effects of scheduling policies on workers.
    • When asked how they might react to a requirement that workers who face last-minute schedule changes be compensated with “predictability” pay, most managers did not indicate that they would reduce staffing levels or hours per employee.
      • The overwhelming majority of managers (82 percent) said that they would increase staffing levels, would keep staffing levels the same, or did not know how they would respond.
      • About 70 percent said they would keep hours per employee the same or that they wouldn’t know what they would do.

This data in the report can only be seen as a shot in the arm for workers who are hoping that the city will pass fair scheduling legislation. However, opponents of fair schedules could take up one ambiguous point in the report and use it to undermine its overwhelmingly positive implications. A point made in the report suggests that advance notice is not necessarily a priority for workers, particularly beyond one week. Indeed, the report overall suggests:

  • Scheduling challenges – including both predictability and access to hours – should be seen as essential parts of a whole, not as competing variables.

The authors of the report suggest that predictability is primarily a concern for those who are already able to make ends meet based on the number of hours they receive. They write, “For shift workers in an economic position to make ends meet, predictability in scheduling is a sensible secondary goal. […] Only if [workers’ average hours are] high enough is it important to consider ironing out fluctuations around that average.” This is a problematic assertion since it is made without evidence; its inclusion in the report is troubling because it  may lead readers to underestimate the importance of predictability.

The study does not provide evidence demonstrating that workers who need or want more hours are less likely to value increased notice of their schedules. It also does not provide any evidence indicating that workers earning less per week or lower wages per hour are less likely to value notice. Thus, the claim that predictability is secondary appears to be based on an assumption rather than a fact.

  • Predictability and the ability to make ends meet go hand-in-hand.

While paying the bills may seem more urgent than knowing when one is working, in many cases predictability is also essential for workers to remain employed, maintain access to needed public benefits, and hold needed second jobs. For example, workers with children may be unable to maintain their child care arrangements if they do not know when they will be working; without child care, many workers are forced to quit their jobs or risk being fired when they are absent or late. To maintain eligibility for some forms of public assistance, workers must show up to appointments or risk being sanctioned or having their benefits cut off. With little notice of their schedules, meeting this requirement becomes challenging.

Access to sufficient hours is undoubtedly very important to many Seattle workers – the evidence is in on that score. But so is predictability. This is why effective scheduling legislation should include both access-to-hours provisions and sufficient notice of schedules.

  • Asking survey respondents to weigh their preference for advance notice against wage increases does not yield a clear answer about the ideal amount of notice.

The authors of the study used contingent valuation (CV) methods to assess the value workers place on advance notice. Workers were asked to weigh a job offer with a specified amount of notice in comparison to an offer with a higher rate of pay. The study found that workers were willing to forgo a significant increase in pay to receive one week of notice, but were less willing to do so for additional weeks of notice. This finding leads the authors to suggest that one week of notice is the preferred amount for many workers. Since many already receive this amount of notice, they argue that a law requiring one week of notice would be of minimal value.

This line of questioning underestimates people’s capacities to voice their specific preferences regarding advance notice. The survey did not ask workers directly, “How many weeks of notice would best meet your needs?” or anything similar. There is a certain irony here: so much of the debate about scheduling turns on workers’ lack of voice on the job. Those with the most volatile schedules typically lack collective bargaining agreements or other mechanisms to have their preferences and needs heard in the workplace.

These survey questions also have other limitations. Virtually no worker will face a situation where she must choose between a higher rate of pay or more notice, so this hypothetical choice does not offer a realistic picture of workers’ preferences. Moreover, the retail and restaurant industry workers surveyed are largely low-wage workers. (The report does not specify the average wage of respondents, but data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that most retail salespersons and food service workers in the region are earning low wages.) Even before considering their access to sufficient hours, we know that – despite the city’s leadership on minimum wage – most are not making family-sustaining wages. Given this context, the fact that so many would forgo a raise in order to receive one week’s notice says a lot about the importance of predictability. And the fact that fewer would forgo a raise to receive two week’s notice may simply suggest that workers need both a raise and more notice of their schedules – not that they don’t want or need more than one week’s notice.

Seattle workers – and all US workers – need higher quality jobs. They need higher wages, access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave, anti-wage theft protections, and fair schedules, among other standards. Seattle is leading the charge among major US cities on many of these fronts. With this report in hand, the city is now poised to move forward on a set of strong policies to improve workers’ schedules and, in turn, their lives. To truly make a difference, the city should advance scheduling legislation that addresses multiple facets of volatility in workers’ lives.

 

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Jul 1, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

The Midwest Joins the Movement: A Midyear Look at Paid Sick Time Progress across the Nation

By Zoe Ziliak Michel 

The movement to guarantee paid sick time has swept into the Heartland. On May 27, Minneapolis became the first* jurisdiction in the Midwest to pass a paid sick time ordinance. Just last week, Chicago followed suit. The two cities join nearly three dozen other jurisdictions that have passed such laws.

Minneapolis and Chicago aren’t the only winners this year. Thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates and workers, eight jurisdictions have passed paid sick time laws or referenda in 2016. In March, Vermont became the fifth state (joining Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon) to guarantee its workers paid sick time. Maryland came very close; its bill passed the house of delegates but failed in the senate on the last day of the session. Four other cities—SpokanePlainfieldNJSanta Monica; and Los Angeles—also passed paid sick time ordinances this year. And just last month, voters in San Diego approved a referendum that will allow workers to earn 40 hours of paid sick time per year. The laws passed this year alone will grant paid sick time to over 1.7 million additional workers.

These laws help meet important needs. Without paid sick time, workers who fall ill have to choose between staying home to recover and earning a paycheck. They can even be fired for missing a single day of work. Paid sick time laws allow people to stay home to care for themselves or a sick loved one while still being able to pay their rent. The laws further promote public health by ensuring that workers who interact with the public—those employed in food service, health care, or child care facilities, among others—don’t spread their illnesses to clients or patients. The laws also help businesses by reducing employee turnover and improving morale.

More paid sick time laws are expected to pass in the coming months. Legislators in St. Paul and Duluth, MN are currently considering bills, and other locations may pass paid sick time through referenda. Berkeley, CA will have a paid sick time measure on its ballot this November, while advocates in Washington state; Arizona; and Albuquerque, NM are collecting signatures for referenda.

2016 is quickly becoming a memorable year in the movement to guarantee paid sick time. However, state and local paid sick time laws are not enough. There are currently 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day. While workers in Vermont and Spokane will soon have this protection, those in Georgia and Urbana need it, too. A federal paid sick time bill, the Healthy Families Act (HFA), is needed to cover everyone. This bill would ensure no one in our country has to choose between staying employed and staying well.

* = Milwaukee actually passed a paid sick time ballot initiative in 2008, but it was overturned with the passage of a 2011 Wisconsin preemption law forbidding municipalities to enact local paid sick time ordinances.

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