Why We Need the Schedules that Work Act: Andrea's Story
By Liz Ben-Ishai
What is it like to have your life consumed by unpredictability and instability? What does it mean to worry about your economic security and your family’s well-being—but have almost no control over the forces that shape them? Many lower-wage workers know exactly what it’s like, as they struggle with job schedules that are extremely volatile, making it difficult to pay the bills, care for children, stay in school—and simply manage life.
Today, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are introducing a bill, the Schedules that Work Act, that could have a profound effect on the lives of workers who must deal with employers that give them little notice of their job schedules; whose hours and schedules fluctuate from week to week; and who have little predictability, flexibility, and stability.
You can find out about the provisions of the bill here. But to really understand the bill, step into the shoes of a worker who has grappled with the very issues this law would help to address. Andrea, a former retail worker, knows all too well what it means to have a schedule that doesn’t work. I had the privilege of listening to her story, and she’s allowed me to share it below.
Andrea, a hard-working single mom to two-year-old Ben, started working in a cosmetics store during the holiday season, when many retail outlets hire additional staff. After the holidays, Andrea was asked to stay on and join the team at the store.
The store’s typical practice is to send out schedules for the week by email on Sunday. This meant that she could be working Monday, but find out about it only the day before. Andrea’s weekly hours fluctuated wildly. One week she’d be scheduled to work 11 hours, the next 42. She was classified as part-time, which meant she was not entitled to overtime. On weekends, she would often be asked to work from 11:00 AM-9:00 PM or 12:00-10:00 PM.
Andrea’s son, Ben, has chronic asthma, so in addition to the typical illnesses that small children get, she had to deal with a more serious health issue that frequently meant he couldn’t go to child care or would be sent home early from child care. On days when Andrea couldn’t go into work, she would be under intense pressure to find someone to cover her shift, or she’d have to ask friends or family to care for a sick Ben. And, when Ben’s child care provider would call to say he needed to be picked up because he was sick, her boss wasn’t very understanding. Rather, Andrea would be punished with extra-long weekend shifts or by being denied requested days off, even when she submitted these requests long in advance—well before schedules had been made.
Having a fair, reasonable schedule that allows workers to care for their families and pursue higher education shouldn’t be something reserved for those who are lucky enough to have an employer with unusually good practices. Thankfully, Andrea no longer has to deal with the chaos of an unpredictable schedule. It’s time for all workers to be free from the stresses and strains of unfair scheduling practices (not just those who happen to get hired by a particular employer)! That’s why we are thrilled about the introduction of the Schedules that Work Act.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy