Fair or Restrictive? Seattle's Proposed Labor Scheduling Law for Retail and Food-Service Workers

A little more than two years after passing its landmark $15 minimum-wage law, Seattle might soon be following in San Francisco’s footsteps with its proposed “Secure Scheduling” law. Last week, Mayor Ed Murray’s office released a summary of the bill, which, if passed by the Seattle City Council, will give hourly workers at large retail and restaurant establishments more advance notice of their schedules and pay them extra for being required to work on call. Murray says that the law will provide “workers with access to a reliable schedule that meets their life and financial needs, while balancing the daily realities facing large employers.” In its current form, the proposed law only applies to retail employers with 500 or more employees worldwide and full-service restaurants with 500 or more employees and 40 or more locations worldwide, such as Costco, Starbucks, Nordstrom, REI, and Subway, but employer groups warn that the law could be broadened in the future to include businesses of all sizes.

The proposed law covers hourly, non-exempt employees who work at least 50% of the time within the city of Seattle, and requires that:

  • Employers give workers 14 days’ advance notice of schedules and the right to decline any shift not on the posted schedule;

  • Workers have a minimum of 10 hours off between shifts, unless they consent to having less rest time between shifts, in which case they would be paid time and a half for the hours worked less than 10 hours since the previous shift (addressing “clopening” shifts, where employees work late closing shifts and then early opening shifts the next day);

  • Employers pay workers one additional hour of “predictability pay” for changes to their work schedule after posting, except for employee-initiated shift swaps or coverage or if the employer fills an unexpectedly open shift by using “mass communications” such as text or email to ask workers if anyone can fill the shift;

  • Workers who do not get all of the hours for which they are scheduled to be paid half of their hourly wage for each hour cut;

  • Workers be paid half of their hourly wage for each hour they are scheduled to work on call but are not called in to work (on-call scheduling involves employees having to wait until the last minute for a store manager to decide whether the day’s traffic requires greater staffing);

  • Employers offer additional hours to existing employees before they can hire new workers, with an exception for seasonal hiring; and

  • Employers, upon hiring an employee, give a written good-faith estimate of the median number of hours the employee is expected to work each week and whether they will be expected to work on-call shifts.

Workers' rights groups have been pushing for such a law for months, maintaining that it is needed to “ensure tens of thousands of Seattle workers have the balance, flexibility, and power it takes to care for [their] family, contribute to [their] community, and build a better future,” said Sejal Parikh, Executive Director of Working Washington. Washington D.C., Chicago, and Emeryville, CA are also considering similar laws (and a draft ordinance in Minneapolis has been tabled following strong opposition from employers groups). The Mayor’s proposal comes on the heels of a forum at Seattle City Hall in June, where a group of REI workers shared their experiences with low wages and erratic working hours, leading to homelessness for some employees.

Business groups, including the Washington Retail Association, have urged the City to slow down. According to a survey of more than 700 workers by the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, most workers in the restaurant industry are happy with their working conditions and do not think new laws restricting scheduling are needed. The Full Service Workers Alliance of Seattle says that the proposed law would not only prohibit the flexible schedules that workers value, such as picking up and dropping shifts as needed, but could result in fewer work opportunities and benefits, such as free or discounted meals offered as perks by some establishments. The Washington Post reports that the scheduling law has not been working well in San Francisco, which passed a similar law in 2014 that went into effect in Summer 2015, where workers complain that they now lose out on opportunities to work extra hours because the “predictability pay” penalties discourage employers from offering extra shifts on short notice, even when the workers would be happy for the chance to pick up more hours.

Here is a link to the 119-page report from the consulting firm Vigdor Measurement & Evaluation, LLC, entitled Scheduling in Seattle: Current State of Practice and Prospects for Intervention, which was delivered to council members in July. The Seattle City Council is holding a public hearing on the proposed law tomorrow, August 16, 2016, at 6 p.m. at Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave. The City Council committee working on the proposal will be meeting on September 7 at noon and September 13 at 9:30 a.m., and the bill is expected to go to a full council vote in September. If passed, the law is anticipated to go into effect in July 2017, although that date has not been finalized.

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