The Best Cities for Part-Time Workers

By Eillie Anzilotti

In Seattle, a McDonald’s employee, frustrated and failing to make ends meet on a schedule that capped her hours at 25 per week, took a second job at an assisted living facility in 2010. To get back and forth between her shifts, she had to take two buses. Transit ate into time with her family—which could have been avoided if she been given full-time hours at McDonald’s like she requested.

For Sejal Parikh, the executive director of Working Washington, a labor organization based in Seattle, the McDonald’s worker’s story was upsetting, but unsurprising. In a recent conference hosted by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Parikh detailed the logistical acrobatics she heard from other hourly workers in Seattle: Some had to drop out of school due to unpredictable schedules; others missed payments on bills because they couldn’t secure the shifts they needed to cover expenses.

Working Washington was instrumental in pushing the local government to pass legislation regulating hourly workers’ schedules. In September, the Seattle City Council passed a “fair scheduling” law, designed to protect wage workers at large retailers and fast-food restaurants from erratic shift allocation and insufficient hours. Seattle’s law, which will come into effect next July, is the second piece of scheduling legislation to come out of a major city—San Francisco passed a “Retail Workers Bill of Rights” in 2014.

Though the range of workers covered by Seattle’s ordinance is wider than that of San Francisco’s, which mainly relates to retail workers at national chains, the two laws are similar in structure. Both require employers to give workers two weeks’ advance notice of shifts and scheduling changes, to make extra shifts available to current workers before hiring more part-time employees, and to offer “predictability pay”—equivalent to up to four hours of wages—to compensate for time spent waiting on call, or for shifts removed on short notice. New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio is currently pushing for similar legislation in New York, and a handful of other cities, including San Jose and Washington D.C., have enacted smaller-scope protections for hourly workers.

Amid all the clamor over the past year about cities and states raising the minimum wage, the interrelated issue of fair scheduling has slipped beneath the radar. At the CLASP conference, Derecka Mehrens of Working Partnerships USA, who successfully advocated for a fair scheduling ballot measure in San Jose, said that while her organization was working to raise the city’s minimum pay to $15 per hour, workers told her boosting the wage wasn’t enough. “They were telling us, ‘sure, $15 is great, $18 is great, but not if I’m only getting 15 or 20 hours a week,’” Mehrens said.

According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, around 6 million workers nationwide are forced into part-time work, despite wanting and needing full-time hours. Moreover, those statistics are stratified racially: The share of white employees involuntarily working part-time is around 3.7 percent; for black and Hispanic workers, those shares are 6.3 and 6.8 percent, respectively. The issue is widespread, says Liz Ben-Ishai, a senior job quality policy analyst at CLASP—and it has not been rectified by the economic upturn following the recession. Ben-Ishai says that city governments can no longer afford to overlook the consequences of erratic scheduling and involuntary part-time work.

Ben-Ishai draws a parallel between paid sick leave laws and scheduling concerns. Seven states and 29 cities now have sick-leave legislation on the books, but Ben-Ishai recalls the initial pushback such regulations faced. “We heard the usual sky-is-falling arguments from employers and employer lobby groups: That the law would force businesses to close, or force them to leave the city or hire fewer workers,” Ben-Ishai says. “But when you look at the outcomes of the laws, you see that none of those things happened.” In fact, the reverse may be true: In an interview with CLASP, Tony Juliano, a small-business owner in New York, said that introducing paid sick leave boosted trust between employers and employees. There’s less evidence for the outcomes of scheduling legislation—only San Francisco’s law has been in effect long enough to measure—but results, according to CLASP, are largely positive.

There is economic incentive for cities to introduce scheduling legislation, Ben-Ishai says: To support a vibrant city, she says, “you have to have stable working families who are able to put the dollars they’re earning back into the local economy.” The instability and poverty attached to involuntary part-time work often preclude such economic involvement. But moreover, Ben-Ishai says, there’s a growing concern in cities around the country about issues of racial equality, and involuntary part-time work statistics back up how poor labor standards disproportionately affect people of color and immigrant communities.

Though a fair-scheduling law was introduced to Congress in 2015, Ben-Ishai is not optimistic that the federal government, particularly under a Trump presidency, will extend protections to part-time workers. “There will have to be a lot of emphasis on moving labor standards at the local level in the coming political climate,” Ben-Ishai says. While scheduling legislation, with its many moving parts, is more complicated than sick leave or minimum-wage floors, Ben-Ishai is confident that such laws will be enacted in cities across the U.S. “The laws make sense when you think about them,” she says. “They’re practices that you already see the best employers implementing—this will be a way to ensure that those who don’t will step up and do what’s right for their workers.”

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