For two years now, low-wage workers have been striking, protesting, and demonstrating to make their employers and the public aware of their grievances.
Chief among their grievances is their low pay, but not far behind are their unstable and unpredictable work schedules, which make life outside of work more difficult.
To make matters worse, writes Dr. Susan Lambert, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, “uncertain schedules make paychecks precarious for hourly workers whose wages depend on the number of hours they work.”
To address these problems, US Representatives Rosa DeLauro and George Miller have filed the Schedules That Work Act (HR 5159).
“Low-wage workers in America are too often being jerked around,” said Rep. DeLauro. “These women—and they are usually women—cannot plan ahead, or make arrangements to see that theirs kids and family are being taken care of. This bill would protect low-wage workers from abuse and help ensure they can look after their families. Congress needs to ensure that people putting in a hard day’s work get a fair day’s pay and the ability to care for their loved ones.”
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCU), which represents workers in retail and grocery businesses is supporting this bill.
“This legislation would ensure all workers have the rights fought for and won by UFCW members for decades,” said Joe Hansen UFCW president. “Our contracts have long guaranteed predictable and adequate scheduling. The law of the land should do the same. I urge Congress to pass the Schedules That Work Act as soon as possible.”
If enacted, HR 5159 would establish an employee’s right to request and receive a flexible, stable, or predictable work schedule.
Among other things, an employer would have to accommodate a schedule request that allows an employee to care for family members, go to school, or work a second job unless there is a valid business reason for denying the request.
The bill also would guarantee that a worker sent home before a scheduled shift ends receives at least four hours pay and would require employers to pay workers one hours pay when the worker is on call.
Employers would also have to provide in writing an employee’s work schedule and the minimum number hours that an employee could expect to work. Changes could be made but an employee would be entitled to notification at least 14 days before the change is made. Emergency changes could be made, but an employee would have to be paid for an extra hour of work.
The retail sector added 26,000 jobs a month during the last 12 months. Unfortunately, most of these jobs are low paying and have unpredictable work schedules making it harder for more people to support their families and have lives outside of work.
Unpredictable work schedules, writes Lambert, make it difficult “to combine or schedule caregiving for family members, education, participation in civic and religious organizations or another job.”
The unpredictability of work also exacerbates inequality, writes Carrie Gleason of the Center for Popular Democracy, “especially for women and workers of color who are more likely to work part-time jobs.”
In an opinion piece appearing in the New York Times, Gleason cites the experiences of two women working in retail. One, Tiffany Beroid, is an African-American who works for Walmart.
When Beroid was pregnant, she asked for a schedule change that would allow her to deal with complications that arose during her pregnancy. Walmart denied her request.
If the Schedules That Work Act had been in place at the time, Walmart would have had to accommodate Beroid’s request.
“Despite being employed, too many hardworking people don’t have a stable schedule and consistent wages,” said US Senator Tom Harkin, sponsor of the Senate version of the Schedules That Work Act. “Instead, schedules change constantly, so workers can’t predict their income or plan their lives. This wreaks havoc on working families and jeopardizes their economic security. The Schedules That Work Act would help workers better manage this balance while still respecting the needs of businesses. By giving workers greater input into and certainty in their schedules, workers, families, and businesses can all benefit.”