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.