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A fight over secure scheduling wages on in Seattle

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Seattle could follow San Francisco into the little-charted terrain of secure scheduling legislation, a sign of the mounting pressure local governments may begin placing on employers to provide workers with fixed work schedules far in advance. 

Two Seattle council members are working on legislation that would require the city's restaurants and other retail employers to offer more advance notice of schedules and penalize them for last-minute changes. The City Council expects the legislation to be introduced in August and go to a vote around November, according to a council spokesperson. 

Secure scheduling or predictive scheduling bills aim to provide hourly workers with a more stable work life. “We aren’t considering these policies because we think it’s a nice thing to do,” said Council member Lisa Herbold during a public hearing according to Seattle Met. “We’re actually trying to respond to changing labor conditions that are causing a greater amount of uncertainty for workers.”

Although workers are demanding fewer surprises in their work schedule, some foodservice operators see more fluid schedules as an industry benefit and a key to running their businesses. Earlier this year, the Washington Restaurant Association told alternative magazine The Stranger that restrictive scheduling polices could negatively impact employers and employees. “We want to ensure restrictive scheduling policies won't defy a crucial cornerstone of restaurant employment—flexibility,” Anthony Anton, the local association’s president, told the magazine. “Many of our employees seek out the hospitality industry for its flexible schedule, something very few industries offer, to meet commitments of school, parenting and other life responsibilities.”

In May, Seattle’s City Council commissioned a study surveying employers and employees about scheduling practices that would inform the legislation, and council members have been hosting stakeholder meetings surrounding the topic. Possible elements of the legislation mentioned in working groups include a two-week prior notice of schedules, a mandatory 11-hour grace period between shifts, to dissolve “clopenings” (back-to-back closing and opening shifts), an hour of additional pay when an employer makes last-minute changes and an obligation to offer up extra hours to existing employees before part-time staff can be hired, according to The Seattle Times.

Seattle is not the only city whose workers and employers are caught in a deadlock over scheduling. Last week, the D.C. City Council postponed a vote on a bill that would require restaurants with 40 or more employees to provide work schedules at least two weeks ahead of time or face a fine. The Hours and Scheduling Stability Act will be readdressed when session resumes in the fall, as some council members are unsure about the “real life” consequences of such a bill, according to the Washington Times.

In 2014, San Francisco approved a legislation deemed the Workers Bill of Rights, which applies to employees of “Formula Retail Establishments” such as chain restaurants and retail stores with 40 or more units worldwide. Many pillars of the ordinance have been suggested in Seattle’s planning meetings. San Francisco’s legislation requires employers to distribute schedules 14 days ahead of time and give workers extra pay for last-minute changes. The legislation also demands that employers offer extra shifts to team members who work less than 35 hours per week before hiring more part-time employees. 

Howard Behar, the retired president of Seattle-based Starbucks, has criticized Seattle lawmakers for the potential crippling effects of secure scheduling legislation. “I now am questioning if you are trying to help people or just penalize businesses for being in business,” he wrote in an email to a Seattle council member, according to The Seattle Times. “I am disgusted with this city government.” The coffee chain has come under fire for poor scheduling practices in the past and has made promises to improve its policies; however, a study from a labor advocacy group has reported that employees don’t feel the effects of any changes.

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