Giving Thanks for Fair Schedules

By Liz Ben-Ishai

While consumers stampede stores in search of a good deal, Black Friday has become a day for progressive labor advocates to highlight retailers’ exploitation of their low-wage workers. Indeed, as shoppers celebrate discounted electronics and clothing, many of the stores’ employees are taking home very little pay; they can only dream of affording the goods they’re selling. Beyond low pay, many of these workers face erratic scheduling, often learning of their shifts only days before they are scheduled to work; experiencing drastic variations in the total hours they receive each week; and even being sent home early with no pay. And it’s not just retail workers who experience these scheduling challenges; workers across a variety of sectors face similar obstacles.

While it’s tempting to launch into Black Friday condemnations for employers who exploit their workers, we want to pause to focus on the real holiday: Thanksgiving. Despite the many challenges lower-wage workers face in today’s economy, it’s worth taking a moment to be thankful for those businesses that are doing things right. While too many employers take the low road when it comes to workplace practices, a growing number recognize that there is not only a moral case to be made for fair treatment of workers; there’s also a business case. A new fact sheet from CLASP highlights evidence to support the benefits of fair schedules for employers. 

Take Equal Exchange , a business that distributes fair trade products like chocolate and coffee. The company has workers that are engaged in production, sales, and service work, including at its two cafés in Boston and Seattle. Rob Everts, Equal Exchange’s co-executive director, believes workers should be a central part of the company’s decision-making processes, including scheduling. Salaried workers can request flexibility and managers often accommodate their needs so that they can care for family and manage other non-work facets of their lives. Everts explains, “Our cafe managers work with baristas, who are hourly employees, to schedule shifts around their other obligations, allowing for considerable employee input into the scheduling process. On the production side of our business, employees work very consistent schedules from week to week and we never send anyone home early, unless they request it. If a machine breaks down, we simply assign workers to another task.” It’s all a part of the company’s ethos of treating workers with respect—and it makes business sense, too. Equal Exchange is a thriving business that does well as it does good.

In a totally different industry, another business leader shares a similar ethos to Everts. Marcia Finn, owner of Bright Start Childcare and Preschool in Washington, D.C., knows that her staff keep her business afloat ;after all, it’s these employees to whom parents entrust their precious children. Finn says, “Having happy employees is critical for the success of our business. Fair and flexible scheduling is one way we accomplish this.” Finn’s staff don’t just care for children at work; almost all of them have their own children at home. To accommodate staff members’ family responsibilities, Bright Start gives all employees advance notice of their job schedules. Additionally, employees work four 10-hour shifts, followed by one day off. Says Finn, “This arrangement provides stable care throughout the day for the children at the center while also allowing our workers more time with their families.” In an industry where workers are often barely scraping by and where high turnover reflects these struggles, Finn’s policies are making a big difference—and keeping her workforce stable, which is what her customers want.

Everts, Finn, and a growing number of employers are looking at the bigger picture, too.  In addition to implementing good workplace policies at their own businesses, they also support efforts to pass public policies guaranteeing all workers access to stable, predictable schedules. Both Everts and Finn have signed on in support of the Schedules that Work Act, a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year. If passed, the law would guarantee many workers the right to request flexibility without fear of retaliation and provide workers in certain industries with advance notice of their schedules, as well as extra compensation when they are subject to erratic schedules.  To learn more about these and other provisions, read CLASP’s breakdown of the bill.

So, as we enjoy Thanksgiving with our families, let’s take a moment to be grateful for employers that support their workers’ abilities to care for their families and otherwise manage their lives by providing fair schedules. But while we celebrate these employers, we must also look ahead. Americans need an economy governed by public policies that guarantee all workers fair schedules (and other facets of good quality jobs). Just days before Thanksgiving, the city of San Francisco served the nation such public policy.  By a unanimous vote,  the city council  approved a first-in-the nation measure that provides workers in chain stores with better scheduling.  Other cities and states are expected to follow this law with their own approaches on scheduling. We are giving thanks to employers such as Everts and Finn and to the policy makers in San Francisco. These employers and these policymakers appreciate that fair schedules help fuel prosperity for both business and workers. 

Learn about the Business Case for Schedules that Work. 

To learn more about scheduling policy issues, visit CLASP’s National Repository of Resources on Job Scheduling Policy.