Group behind Seattle’s $15 minimum wage kicks off campaign for restrictions on scheduling

Feb 5, 2016

Working Washington, the union-funded organization responsible for pushing a $15 minimum wage, has officially kicked-off their campaign on the next battleground issue for labor regulations—shift scheduling.

“Just like Seattle workers led the way forward in the fight for $15, we’re going to lead the way to win one of the nation’s first secure-scheduling laws.”

Known alternatively as “predictive,” “predictable,” “fair” or “secure” scheduling, such regulations require employers to provide workers with an advance schedule, usually set at two to three weeks.  Along with the advance scheduling is typically a “predictability pay” penalty if an employer changes a worker’s hours after the advance notice window, and often includes guaranteed minimum pay for workers who are “on-call” but not called in to work.  It also usually includes provisions limiting how a business can utilize full-time and part-time workers. 

Such legislation to remove employers’ independent decision-making rights is already under consideration in Olympia.

San Francisco has a “Fair Scheduling and Treatment of Formula Retail Employees Ordinance” on the books, which is one of a group of bills under the “Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights.”  A bill modeled after the San Francisco law nearly passed statewide in California last year, and similar bills have been introduced in ten other states in the past year.

The issue could soon become a federal one as the U.S. Department of Labor has signaled it may also jump on the predictable scheduling bandwagon.  Last year the administrator of DOL’s Wage and Hour Division said the federal agency is “looking very actively” into whether predictable scheduling should be an enforceable right for workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  If the department were to make such a ruling, predictable scheduling would be a federal administrative mandate that every employer in the nation would be required to comply with, or face fines and penalties.

While Working Washington has not yet revealed the specifics of their proposal, their website says “secure scheduling means” workers should receive advance notice of shifts, be guaranteed shifts are scheduled at least 11 hours apart, and have the opportunity to work any extra hours before additional part-time employees are hired.

Like many regulations, there are unintended consequences to this kind of government interference.  These consequences impact both employers and workers.

Employers in San Francisco report the restrictions prevent them from bringing in more staff to quickly respond to changing market conditions.  For example, an unexpected warm weather streak last summer increased consumer traffic for many retailers; businesses say they were unable to call in extra staff and consumers were frustrated by the lack of sufficient service.

And some workers complain the city’s new regulations have discouraged employers from offering them extra hours or shifts on short notice because they would be required to pay the extra “predictability pay” penalty.  These workers say they want the opportunity to work those extra hours and would be happy to do so on short notice without earning the additional predictability pay.

These real world examples illustrate what happens when businesses and workers are micromanaged by one-size-fits-all government regulations.  Employers lose the flexibility they needed to quickly respond to customer needs, and workers lose important work opportunities.