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Watching the clock

Is scheduling certainty the next battle in the labor fight?

When The New York Times published an article back in August about a Starbucks employee’s daily struggle to plan her life around an unpredictable work schedule, the coffee giant took immediate action, changing its companywide scheduling practices, among other things. Now the pressure on operators to offer more schedule certainty for workers has shifted from newspapers to politicians.

A new mandate, dubbed the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors late last year, requiring operators with 20 or more workers and at least 20 locations to lock in servers’ schedules weeks in advance. Though the legislation is local, its scope could have implications for national chains beyond the West Coast. And it has the potential to turn traditional scheduling, based on the ebb and flow of traffic, on its head. No more sending servers or cooks home on a slow night—not without penalties. Here are the key provisions:

  • Prior to the start of employment, operators must provide an estimate of the employee’s expected minimum number of scheduled shifts per month, and the days and hours of those shifts.
  • Operators must provide employees with two weeks’ advance notice of work schedules.
  • If schedules change with less than seven days notice, employees must be compensated. And it’s a hefty penalty: In addition to the employee’s regular pay for working the shift, operators would have to provide one hour of pay for each shift change made with less than seven days notice but more than 24 hours notice. For changes made with less than 24 hours notice, operators would have to pay between two and four hours pay, depending on the shift change.
  • If the employee is required to be available but is not called in to work, the operator must provide between two and four hours of pay, depending on the duration of the on-call shift.

Thus far, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee has not signed the bill into law. And the International Franchise Association has come out against the mandate, expressing that it unfairly puts “locally owned franchised businesses at a competitive disadvantage” by not applying the law across the board.

Others argue that it doesn’t take the nature of restaurants into account. “The mandate fails to take into consideration the rapidly changing business environment of restaurants during peak seasons or hours, where changes to schedules are necessary and unavoidable,” says Janna Haynes, communications and public relations manager at the California Restaurant Association. “Weather alone has a significant impact on the ebb and flow of customers and cannot be predicted two weeks in advance … This ordinance has made it more challenging and costlier to run a successful business.”

A statewide version of the law already has been proposed in the California legislature and other jurisdictions are reportedly studying it. 

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