Job Schedule Challenges: A Collection of Stories

September 08, 2014

Unpredictable, unstable, and inadequate work hours wreak havoc on many lower-wage workers' lives. Data make clear that these job schedule challenges are widespread and their effects on access to child care, education, and economic stability are crushing. While the numbers make a compelling case on their own, it's workers' personal stories that truly give voice to the need for public policy solutions. The stories below are drawn from publicly available news coverage of scheduling challenges, including experiences from workers' profiled in the main news pieces and stories related in the comment sections. Following each story is a link to the source of the story; just click on the word "Source" to get to the original article. Stories drawn from comment sections are indicated as such.

Unpredictable Schedules

  • One reader, a sales employee at an Apple store, complained in a letter that her work schedule varied every week, although she praised Apple’s medical, dental and vision benefits, even for part-timers. In a follow-up interview she said she was essentially required to be available anytime from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week — she has designated Wednesday as her day off. “Having to give them that much availability, it means you’re at their mercy,” she said, noting that her husband works Monday through Friday. “You don’t know until the schedule comes out what your life will look like.” Source.
  • I worked a big-box retail store around the holidays a couple of years ago. The work week started at 6:00 AM on Mondays. The schedule was made up on Sunday nights. More than once, it was not available until 11:00 PM. Oh, and you couldn't call in to get it, either. You had to drive over. The store was so short staffed and demoralized that nobody even bothered to answer the phones. One week, I worked three hours. Another week, I worked thirty-seven. I once had a shift end at 2:00 AM (scheduled until 11:00 PM, but they lock you in until the store is "clean") and had to return five hours later for another shift that started at 7:00 AM. For early morning shifts, before store open, you would sometimes stand around in the cold in a huddle for twenty or thirty minutes until a manager strolled by and unlocked the front door - at which point you were "late." - Clem, Shelby. Source.
  • My daughter and I leave for vacation today not knowing if she will be called to work (grocery store) during her vacation week. They refuse to promise to schedule her off for the end of this week into the beginning of next week. Why? Because they only schedule one week at a time. On Saturday she is supposed to call in to find out if she can still be on vacation. We are driving 12 hours to go away. We can't just jump in the car and head back in time for the next day. And this is a union job! They too can't get the employer to schedule ahead of time. Wouldn't it be easier for all involved to have steady shifts? Do the bosses really enjoy patching together a schedule every single week? - Katy S., Annapolis. Source (comments).
  • My main source of income is my consulting work. But I recently took on a seasonal job with an insurance company. Our training schedule is all over the board - one day this week, a 40 hour week, then one day a week (constantly shifting days) for another month... some days 8 hours, some 4 - we won't know until a few days before the individual sessions.
  • Many of the people in my orientation class were extremely demotivated and probably won't be returning. How could they fit this seasonal part time job into their daily schedules when it is so random? When the employer doesn't give a heads up? One woman was in tears - she anticipated working a regular schedule for a certain number of weeks.
    The cornerstone of any business is its employees. Treat your employees poorly and it will probably trickle down to the customers.
    Can't we treat one another humanely and with respect? - jackslater54, Buffalo, NY. Source (comments).
  • This is THE RULE not the exception! Lately, I have had to "clopen" or pretty close to it at least 3 times. The 3rd time, I told my mgr. that I thought it was illegal and her reply was, "then get someone to switch with you". When I was not able to find someone, she said "then I guess you better be here". Guess what, my hours were cut! I found shifts that I could pick up, which caused me to work 7/wk & ended up with 45 minutes of overtime,and I got a written warning for it! - Little Rock, AR, Starbucks. Source (comments).

 Child Care

  • My husband and I constantly go back and forth about the daycare for our two girls. They only go 3 days a week, which is the only amount of money we could work out with both of us working full time jobs. It's hectic trying to tell the daycare each week what the schedule is and to make sure they get to stay there. And even with that, we are still struggling with our bills. (My job is only a contract position so no benefits.) - Michelle, Florida. Source (comments).
  • I took a job at Kohl's after my retirement as an educator. Many of the staff had one or two other jobs to make ends meet ( Kohl's pays $8 an hour). For single women with children the stress was overwhelming and I spoke with many who were struggling with daycare arrangements. Very few could afford professional daycare and had to rely on friends and family. Despite the struggle, like Ms. Navarro, they sought a better life for themselves and their children. There must be a better way. - Suzanne Witzenburg, Long Island, NY, Retired. Source (comments)
  • I am a barista at SBUX. This story is accurate. I also worked at Nordstrom and every week was different also plus you did not get your schedule for the following week until Wed at the earliest, usually Fri. When at Nord. I was on welfare with 5 kids and that made no difference - I was an clopener often. I relied on my older kids to watch the younger ones and I could have been busted for it.  - Mary, Cambridge, Starbucks. Source (comments).
  • This is precisely why I couldn't go back to work when my daughter was an infant. My husband had lost his job, his schedule of part-time work was erratic, and all I was qualified for at the time was retail. My MIL couldn't understand why I couldn't give her a set schedule every week to watch my baby, so she wouldn't do it, and we couldn't afford childcare. Thank god I'm not in that position anymore--it's desperate. - Sarah, Kentucky. Source (comments).
  • I'm a divorced single mother. I worked at a Tim Hortons for about six months. I was also attending school & my daughter was attending daycare while we were @ school. My parents watched my daughter while I was working. daycare is too expensive to put her in all week. Not only was my schedule erratic but they didn't post the schedule until 2PM Sunday. The work week started on Monday. I wound up making the decision to quit working & take out student loans to cover my expenses b/c of the erratic scheduling, the crappy wages& no benefits. - Christine, Lockport, NY, Tim Hortons. Source (comments).

Economic Insecurity

  • Sharlene Santos says her part-time schedule at a Zara clothing store in Manhattan — ranging from 16 to 24 hours a week — is not enough. “Making $220 a week, that’s not enough to live on — it’s not realistic,” she said. After Ms. Santos and four other Zara workers recently wrote to the company, protesting that they were given too few hours and received just two days’ notice for their schedule, the company promised to start giving them two weeks’ advance notice. Source.
  • Brian Quick – Old Navy. Having worked in retail for four years, he said his schedule for the upcoming week would come out on Thursday night, and the hours constantly fluctuated. "It's hard to plan anything such as doctor appointments when you aren't even sure when you work," Quick said. "Some weeks I would work 35 hours, and the next I'd get 15 hours. How am I supposed to pay bills?" Last-minute notices became routine for Quick, who sometimes received calls informing him he didn't have a shift anymore the night before he was scheduled to work." One day I came into work and they cut my hours right then and there," Quick said. "Seems like everything is based on sales and not the well-being of the people who make the sales happen." Quick had other troubling experiences while working for Old Navy, including when he was denied Christmas vacation despite applying for it three months in advance. He eventually got the time off, but only through persistence and "the last-minute intervention of a sympathetic manager." Source.

Education

  • Tiffany Beroid – Walmart. She was trying to hold down a full-time position as a customer service manager at a Walmart in Maryland, while studying to be a nurse. But when she asked for a schedule change to allow her to juggle her school and work duties, she tells The Nation, the management was less than family friendly: “[Walmart] retaliated by cutting my hours. So even though I was full-time in the system, I was receiving nineteen or twenty-five hours some weeks, maybe forty hours if I was lucky, once a month.” Her situation was further complicated by her pregnancy, which caused blood pressure problems that prompted her to request light duty at work—on her doctor’s advice. Then, she says, the management abruptly forced her to take unpaid leave, and the strain on her family eventually forced her to drop out of school. Source.
  • Courtney Moore, a cashier at a Walmart in Cincinnati, said in an interview that she had been assigned about 40 hours a week until she told store management in June that she would begin taking college classes most mornings and some afternoons. She said she asked her manager to put her on the late shift, but to her dismay, the store reduced her to 15 hours a week. “They said they need someone they could call whenever they need help — and they said I’m not that person,” Ms. Moore said. She said she would prefer being a dedicated full-time employee at Walmart but had to take a second job at McDonald’s instead. Source.
  • I work at CUNY and many of my students are caught in this situation. It wrecks havoc with their school schedule (not to mention their home life). Many of them have to drop classes or drop out of school, entirely because of the unpredictability of their employment schedule. This hiring ruse is destroying the lives of many young people. - Lydia Gerson, NYC. Source (comments).
  • I worked at Kohl's and I remember working hours like Ms. Navaro. The schedule at Kohl's impacted my studies and school. I struggled trying to balance between school and work. My work schedule would be 3PM to 11PM then next day would be 5AM to 3PM. 30 min lunch. You were never given consistent schedule. - Katy, Koh;'s. Source (comments).
  • I worked for Starbucks for a couple years. The insane hours crushed my personal relationships and made me physically/emotionally exhausted. I was a full time student, but due to my chaotic schedule, I could no longer juggle everything successfully. So I left school. I felt like I was going crazy and I was depressed. My boyfriend and I fought over my schedule almost every night. I quit Starbucks months ago, for a more stable job. I feel healthier and happier. My love life is better. I'm glad this issue is finally coming to light. So many people are struggling. - Anon, PA, Starbucks. Source (comments)

Health

  • Despite only scheduling her for 22 hours a week, Reynolds says Walmart requires her to be available at all hours for four days a week, and often changes her timetable less than a day in advance without giving her any notice. Reynolds says her constantly shifting routine leaves her little opportunity for a life outside Walmart, even disrupting her ability to treat her diabetes. [The Schedules that Work Act] would make a very big difference. The other thing that I know would help is that they’re trying to make it so people can work two different jobs. The bill would give me a set schedule, and I could work my diabetes out.  Source.
  • That's something that worries Nikki Simmons, a 28-year-old Wal-Mart customer service associate in Sacramento, California. She works about 33 hours per week and while she gets her schedule three weeks in advance, she says her bosses can revise schedules without workers’ permission. She says they also can be inflexible about honoring an employee’s request to take days off, and she is concerned how that could impact her care for her 5-year-old daughter, who suffers from asthma.“Asthma attacks are unpredictable,” she says. “[Our employers] don’t work with our schedules and … when they need you to work or do something, they’re nice to you. But other than that, they don’t care what you’re going through.” Source.
  • Clopening wrecks hell on my mental health; sleep deprivation and unstable sleep patterns exacerbate my ADHD symptoms and leave me continuously off kilter. I'm a better worker with sleep - how does it benefit their bottom line to have sleep deprived workers? - Anon, Portland. OR, Target. Source (comments).

 Second Jobs & Full Time Work

  • A middle-aged New Yorker who lost his teaching job of two decades because of a budget squeeze in his school district said he had applied for retail jobs and was shocked by what he found. “You had to be available every minute of every day, knowing you would be scheduled for no more than 29 hours per week and knowing there would be no normalcy to your schedule,” he wrote. “I told the person I would like to be scheduled for the same days every week so I could try to get another job to try to make ends meet. She immediately said, ‘Well, that will end our conversation right here. You have to be available every day for us.’“I asked, ‘Even though I’m trying to get another job?’ ‘Yes.’ Then she just stared at me and asked me to leave. What kind of company does this? What kind of company will not even let you get another job?” Source.
  • The American workforce is so demoralized we are willing to put up with abusive employers just to hold on to a job that doesn't even cover the bills. The practice of insisting that an employee be available for full time work while never being scheduled for more than 20 hours or so has become the norm. Workers are making just enough to keep them working without the benefit of being able to plan for any kind of advancement. For myself I was clocking about 25 hrs. a week until I requested that my schedule be adjusted so I would be able to tell potential employers that I had a definite block of time that I was available. The result was my hours were cut to 12 a week and it's still irregular. The company has enough people employed so that no-one gets close to full time and yet every single shift is short staffed and we are reminded constantly that we are a team and we all just have to pull through for the good of the company.
    This from an outfit that is rated as one of the 100 best places to work and is constantly banging on about all things being 'Employee First' as one of it's Foundation Principles. What a crock. - BC, N. Cal. Source (comments).
  • I work part time in Woodbury Common, New York's biggest retail outlet and magnet for foreign shoppers. My store has about 2k visitors a day. Rather than giving more hours to the part-timers, the store hires more of them. That way, each person can work between 5-10 hours rather than 15-25 hours. Makes sense for the retailers, who will have a wealth of part-timers as people quit for other jobs. The result is a staff that doesn't know what they are doing and no company loyalty. This is the trend in big box retail so if you aren't happy with it, you can thank the U.S. for sending all the jobs overseas and leaving U.S. workers with the dregs – Kathy Roberts, Orange County, NY. Source (comments).
  • When I was an hourly worker at Kohls we had extremely erratic schedules. I would sometimes work from 5am-12pm. Other days I would have to come in at noon or mid morning. I never knew which days out of the week I would be working or what my aggregate hours for any given week would be. It would have been impossible to work a second job or go to school at the time even thought I never was given more than 25 hours a week. - Will, North Carolina, Kohls. Source (comments).

 Sent Home from Work Early

  • That happened to Mary Coleman. After an hour long bus commute, she arrived at her job at a Popeyes in Milwaukee only to have her boss order her to go home without clocking in — even though she was scheduled to work. She was not paid for the day. Source.
  • As an RN with a master's degree, you'd think I would fare better, but no. One Christmas Day not so long ago I was scheduled to work the 3-11 shift at the local hospital. I showed up for my shift but was told, "Didn't someone call you? Our census is down and we don't need you. But stay by your phone because you are on call for the next four hours" (without pay). I would love to have organized into a union, but nurses don't seem to be able to get it done. Now I work in a school system and I am in the teachers' union. It is bliss. - Liz, Wheaton, IL. Source (comments).
  • I had a similar issue with Bath & BodyWorks in 2011. I was a sophomore at university and had to rely on the bus system. Depending on the day and time it took between 45min-1hr and 20min to get to work. I was once sent home after working less than 30min (after being called in) because the system said that profits were down and they needed to cut labor. After taxes my net pay for that shift didn't even cover my fares. - Emma, Bellingham, WA, Bath & BodyWorks. Source (comments).

 Business

  • I simply don't understand this. As a small business owner for over 30 years I have always been able to provide my part-time employees with a firm, steady, and predictable schedule. Sure, sometimes it's quiet...but there is always work to be done. My employees are a vital and important asset. I treat them right and they do their best for me. It's so easy...why can't big business run by MBAs and highly compensated executives figure that out? We've got a fundamental flaw someplace in our economic thinking...maybe it's the proliferation of finance driven business over productive business. We need to stop playing numbers games and get back to really making things and providing real service to customers.  - JDT, South Dakota. Source (comments)
  • I only earned $9/hr. in retail post college in Austin. But I was able to make it work bc I often worked 50-60 hr. weeks; the 1.5X overtime pay made a HUGE difference.
    My boss wasn't benevolent; he wasn't even a nice guy. He was smart enough to realize it's better to have a few well-trained people who know the product than a bunch of shifty/unreliable part-timers.  - Jackson 25, Dallas. Source (comments).
  • I also work at Starbucks. I have been there for 7+ years. Right now, I am waiting to see if I should get a train ticket to come back from seeing my family on either Sunday or Monday. I won't know if I have Monday off until the schedule is made Wednesday, giving me four days to plan. My father is in the hospital, and school starts Tuesday, so I'd like to spend as much time as I can back home before school starts. This is a typical scheduling conflict at Starbucks and it's incredibly taxing on my time. - Ted, Chicago, Starbucks. Source (comments).
  • I own a small coffee shop (located in a former starbucks location coincidentally). As a young father I struggled to pay bills and attend school. I worked for several big box retailers and dealt with this type of scheduling. It made home life chaos. Now that I own a cafe, I made a commitment to my employees to be able to have set schedules. They often site the schedules as a benefit to staying with us rather than experiencing the turbulent work schedules of corporate chains. - Oziel, California. Source (comments).

Elder Care

  • "Even though I work at the country's largest employer and want to work full-time, I don't know when I will work from week to week," said Ronee Hinton who works at Walmart in Laurel, Maryland. "I'm supposed to receive my schedule three weeks in advance, but it's often late, and shifts are added at the last minute. That means I have to miss important doctors' appointments and I can't get a second job. The worst part about Walmart's unpredictable scheduling is my mom is in a nursing home and I can never visit her. It shouldn't be this way. We need Walmart to publicly commit paying us a minimum of $25,000 a year for full-time work and to stop retaliating against workers that speak out for better jobs." Source.
  • My friend, David, worked as an hourly employee with McDonalds. He found out his schedule a few days before he had to work it, sometimes found out the night before, and was fired after 3 years because his mother was having surgery on a day he was scheduled to work. He had asked for it off, but his boss told him to come in or don't come back. He went back and was fired. Then they tried to deny him unemployment (insubordination). He lost, but won on appeal. All this for $7.75 an hour. - David Crandell, Amsterdam, NY, McDonald's. Source (comments).
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