Seattle business leaders sounding the alarm against restrictive scheduling regulations

By ERIN SHANNON  | 
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Jul 12, 2016

Some of Seattle’s most influential business leaders are sounding the alarm over the city’s consideration of rules restricting how they manage and schedule their workers.

The regulations under consideration would require employers to give workers two or three weeks advance notice of scheduled shifts with extra “predictability” pay for shifts with less notice, guarantee shifts are scheduled at least 11 hours apart, guarantee existing employees have the opportunity to work any extra hours before additional part-time employees are hired and mandate workers be paid a minimum of four hours for any shift.

A few weeks ago, former Starbucks International president, and self-proclaimed progressive, Howard Behar, purchased two full-page ads in The Seattle Times to publish a letter expressing his displeasure with the city’s “hypocritical and out of touch” mayor and Council members for pursuing the restrictive scheduling regulations.  Behar’s strongly-worded letter accuses the city’s leaders of being “corrupted” for crafting policy that is clearly “political payback” to the labor unions who have funded their election campaigns.

Now the president and COO of El Gaucho Hospitality, which operates the popular and high-end El Gaucho steak restaurants, has joined the fray.  In a letter that was recently emailed to 80,000 El Gaucho customers, a blog posted on the company’s website, and an interview published in the Puget Sound Business Journal, Chad Mackay says the proposed restrictive scheduling regulations are “absurd.”

Mackay explains the impossibility of scheduling restaurant workers two to three weeks in advance:

“Various factors impact the way we schedule our teams – employee needs and requests, weather, road closures, an accident, or a Seahawks playoff win.”

Employers in San Francisco, which has already passed a restrictive scheduling law, 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.

Worse, Mackay warns such micromanagement will harm the very workers the rules are supposed to protect.  As he explains, if schedules have to be locked in, the people the city is trying to help, like the runners, bussers and hosts, will likely lose work opportunities:

"The less-skilled support positions are not as important as guaranteeing servers are on staff.  We'll chose servers over those people every time…

…The way regulations are developing will likely hurt those that the Seattle City Council is supposedly trying to help.  Entry-level positions, such as bussers, runners, and hosts, are at risk of losing spots to more experienced and higher skilled workers. This will result in a lack of entry-level roles in this industry.”

That is exactly what is happening in San Francisco.  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.

Such flexibility is the hallmark of the service industry.  Many workers value the ability to easily swap shifts and pick up extra work hours. The rigid, one-size-fits-all restrictive scheduilng regulations make that nearly impossible.