In Focus: Employees and Responsive Workplaces

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.


May 2, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

How Good Jobs Help Parents Meet Babies' Vaccination Schedules

By Lauren French

As we recognize the health benefits of vaccination during National Infant Immunization Week, we must also recognize the impossible choice faced by many working parents: jeopardize their family’s financial stability to take their children to immunization appointments or put those children at risk of contracting a dangerous illness.

Immunizations are a critical aspect of the health and well-being of infants and toddlers. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. Failing to vaccinate can put children at serious risk of diseases such as measles and whooping cough. Despite the wealth of evidence demonstrating the importance of vaccinations, lack of paid sick leave and inflexible or unpredictable job schedules often mean that working parents are unable to take their children to immunization appointments. In fact, 13 percent of working parents report that they are unable to meet their children’s preventive health care needs often, some, or all the time.

Research shows that job schedule flexibility and workplace supports make it substantially easier for parents to obtain preventative care for their children. For example, a parent being able to make a personal phone call at work reduces by 56 percent the odds of not meeting their child’s preventive health needs. Jobs that allow working parents to make schedule adjustments reduce those odds by 40 percent.

New data from an EINet working paper by Susan Lambert, Julia Henly, and Peter Fugiel show that among those with young children, only half of hourly workers and less than 40 percent of non-hourly workers have any input into their job schedules. Additionally, more than 40 percent of hourly workers with children under six receive just one week or less advance notice of their schedules.

Because doctors’ office hours generally overlap with parents’ working hours, getting infants and toddlers to vaccination appointments often means taking time away from work. Unfortunately, about 40 percent of private sector workers have no access to earned sick days. One study found that working parents who did not have paid leave reported losing income when they had to take a child for immunizations. This is especially problematic for low-income families, as only 30 percent of low-wage workers have access to sick days.

Ensuring our nation’s children are protected from preventable disease requires that we address the significant hurdles facing working parents. National Infant Immunization Week reminds us that we urgently need public policies that make it possible for parents to provide for the financial health of their families without having to sacrifice their physical well-being. Policies that give workers the right to paid sick time and workplace flexibility are important steps towards a happier, healthier future for our children. 

Mar 10, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Unstable Work Schedules Hurt Economy, Communities, and Families

by Liz Ben-Ishai

Imagine if your work schedule changed from week to week or even from day to day. Imagine being scheduled to work 40 hours one week and 15 hours the next, with no warning of these fluctuations. Imagine paying for child care, only to have your manager send you home without pay, claiming there aren’t enough customers for you to work your shift. For many lower-wage workers, it doesn’t take much imagination at all to conjure up these scenarios.

A new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Retail Action Project (RAP), and Women Employed reveals that unstable and unpredictable work schedules have severe implications for hourly-wage workers, as well as businesses and consumer spending. The report highlights two policy approaches that would lift up the economy and give workers a boost so that they can cover the basics.

Tackling Unstable and Unpredictable Work Schedules examines the recent trend toward “just-in-time” scheduling practices, where employers schedule workers based on fluctuating consumer demand, which they monitor from day to day or even hour to hour.

These struggles aren’t unusual; a study of 17 major U.S. corporations in various industries found that only three gave more than a week’s notice of schedules. Another study focusing on one major U.S. retailer found that 59 percent of full-time hourly workers experienced fluctuations in either the days or hours of their shifts from week to week.

Two approaches that some employers are taking create jobs with better conditions while meeting business needs.  For example, Costco jobs guarantee a minimum number of hours each week. Cooperative Home Care Associates, a home care staffing agency, has a program that guarantees participating employees a set number of paid hours per week, even if they are not ultimately needed to work all of those hours. In addition to these voluntary minimum hours policies, some collective bargaining agreements and many states’ laws require employers to pay a set amount even if they send a worker home early or decide the worker is not needed for a shift (known as “reporting pay”).

Erratic schedules can cause workers to lose wages and jobs, which leaves them unable to pay for basic goods. Businesses should be concerned. In fact, Wal-Mart was recently the focus of press coverage as it weighed whether to support an increase in the federal minimum wage—a choice driven by the company’s reliance on low-wage workers not only as employees but also as customers. Just as Wal-Mart is waking up to how wages matter to the company and the larger economy, it is time for businesses to realize that unstable scheduling practices are a part of the picture, too.

With nearly 8 million hourly-wage workers in the U.S., many of whom struggle to pay the bills and cover the rent, it’s clear that change is needed. We need public policies that make it possible for working families to get by—and this includes policies that help to create good jobs. Stable and predictable schedules are a key piece of the job quality puzzle.

Read Tackling Unstable and Unpredictable Work Schedules.

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