A Fair Work Week for New Yorkers

A Fair Work Week for New Yorkers


The Problems

A report by the Community Service Society of New York’s December 2016 report “Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers from Getting Ahead” highlights how NYC’s low-wage retail and restaurant workers are taken advantage of by employers, exacerbating economic hardships for NYC’s poor workers.
  • Short-notice of work schedules (i.e. less than two weeks’ notice and on-call shifts) is a common problem for all New Yorkers, but more so for the working poor. More than 1-out-of-3 employed New Yorkers are given their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance, including more than half of poor New Yorkers. Low-income restaurant and retail workers are also more than 7 times as likely than higher income New Yorkers to have 24 hours or less advance notice (i.e. on-call shifts) of their schedules, which has serious impacts on their work and home life.
  • Low-income workers with less than 2 weeks’ notice and schedules that change week-to-week are more likely to experience serious economic hardships. These workers are nearly twice as likely to fall behind on rent, or be unable to afford subway or bus fare than workers who get 2 weeks notice of their schedules. These workers are also more likely to:

    • Skip meals because there wasn’t enough money to buy food

    • Be unable to fill a prescription because of lack of money or insurance

    • Fall behind on utility bills

    • Be threatened by foreclosure or eviction

  • Changes in schedules from week to week is a serious problem for parents and women, in particular. Low-income parents and women are more likely to see inconsistent and fluctuating schedules than other low-income workers. Among low-income workers, those with fluctuating hours and less than one week’s notice are 3 times more likely to have lost their job than those with stable hours and more advance notice. Parents with less than 2 weeks notice of their schedules are also more likely to have to cut back on buying school supplies or clothes, fill prescriptions, or buy food for their families.

In addition to unpredictable schedules, workers in low-wage retail and restaurant sectors are often not given insufficient hours to make ends meet, are required to “clopen” stores, and face difficulty fighting for their rights in the absence of a formal union. 
  • The practice of clopenings, where workers are forced to close their store and return for the next shift to open it again, is dangerous for workers. Adequate sleep is a basic need that is fundamental to maintaining our health and necessary to remain alert on the job and avoid injury. Workers forced to clopen stores often have less than 11 hours between shifts, making it impossible for them to get a good night’s rest or spend time with family.

  • Part-time workers are desperate for additional shifts to make ends meet. But in an effort to cut overhead costs, employers would rather hire new part-time workers than offer its existing workers a path to full-time employment and benefits. Adequate hours are critical to ensure a decent paycheck and many workers would prefer to work enough hours to pay the bills at one job, rather than having to juggle two or even three different jobs. But because hourly part-time workers come with few fixed costs (such as minimum hours or earnings or health insurance), employers simply hire new part-time workers rather than offering available hours to existing employees.

  • Fast food workers need a way to gather resources for an organization that can monitor and enforce their victories. Despite winning higher wages and a path to $15 in July 2015 from the wage board convened by Governor Cuomo, workers are still struggling to realize these victories in their day to day lives. While workers are fighting for union rights, fast food workers can not afford to simply wait for employers to come to the table. Workers need to be able to form an organization that ensures they are paid the proper wage and that fights to ensure they have affordable housing in their neighborhoods. They need to be able to come together to demand fair scheduling and racial justice in their communities. They need to be able to unite their voices against sexual harassment in the workplace and demand immigration reform in the US that protects workers’ rights and keeps families together.

Finally, a lack of schedule flexibility is an issue that impacts all New Yorkers, as demonstrated by Comptroller Scott M. Stringer’s 2014 report, “Families and Flexibility: Reshaping the Workplace for the 21st Century.”
  • Across all sectors, but particularly in low-income workers, New Yorkers have a lack of flexibility in their work schedules, and fear that they will be retaliated against if they make a request. Work-life balance is increasingly recognized as critically important — not just for workers, but for the economic competitiveness of the city. Inflexibility affects the lives of all New Yorkers, particularly caregivers, parents and low-income workers, making it difficult for workers to accommodate family, outside responsibilities, or even tend to personal emergencies. While schedule change requests cannot always be granted, workers should not have to fear for their jobs or their livelihood should they make the ask. 

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