Before a vacation, a fair work week

Before a vacation, a fair work week

My family and I are headed out on vacation next week. I don’t know about you, but at this moment, I sure need one.

Before we leave, though, it’s worth taking a minute to think about workers whose jobs don’t provide even enough stability to know whether, when, or how much they’ll be working from week-to-week.

Without a stable work schedule, who can build a stable life, pay the rent, arrange child care, or go to school? Much less save up for presents, buy new clothes for the kids, or go on a real vacation.

Unfortunately, unpredictable schedules are all-too-common, especially for poor New Yorkers. A new report from the Community Service Society (“Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers from Getting Ahead”) highlights how NYC’s low-wage retail and restaurant workers suffer from abusive scheduling that exacerbates economic hardship. The CSS study shows that:

  • Short-notice of work schedules 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 New Yorkers with 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, be threatened with foreclosure or eviction, skip meals due to lack of money, be unable to fulfill a prescription, or fall behind on utility bills, compared with workers who get 2 weeks notice of their schedules.

  • Schedules that change from week-to-week are a serious problem for parents and women, in particular. 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.

New Yorkers working hard to pay the rent and feed their families should not be subject the whims of shift cancellations and last minute changes to their hours. These workers need more predictable schedules to support their families and have a stable life — which means not only knowing when they will work in advance, but also some flexibility to meet caregiving and medical needs, and (perhaps most important) a pathway to full-time hours for those who want them.

That’s why I’m proud to co-sponsor a package of legislation introduced in the City Council this month that would provide fast-food and other workers with a “fair work week.”

You can learn more about our fair work week legislation here. The six bill package would require fast-food chain restaurants to provide workers with 2-weeks advance notice of their schedules and ban “clopenings” (i.e. when workers are asked to close a business location at night and then return first thing in the morning to reopen the same business). It would offer a pathway to full-time work, by requiring employers to offer shifts to current part-time employees, before  bringing on new ones. And it includes an innovative model for fast-food workers -- who have done so much to inspire us with their Fight for $15 -- to join and make voluntary charitable contributions to worker  organizations that help them advocate for their rights.

The legislation would also protect other retail workers (outside of fast-food) from abusive “on-call” scheduling, in which they are forced to wait by the phone to see whether they are working or not, and don’t get paid at all if they aren’t called. Finally, it would provide all NYC workers with the right to request schedule flexibility from their employers, to address caregiving, school, and other needs (without fear of retaliation, and with a fair process to consider the request).

When I get back from vacation (hopefully refreshed by a paid benefit that it also seems to me that everyone needs), I’ll be working hard alongside a coalition of workers, council members (including Corey Johnson, Julissa Ferreras, Debi Rose, Laurie Cumbo, and Danny Dromm) and advocates (including 32BJ SEIU, A Better Balance, the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road, the Community Service Society) to pass these bills into law.

If we succeed, next year at this time many more New Yorkers will have the right to a fair work week, a better chance to take a family vacation, and a much brighter holiday season.

Or, as Tiny Tim puts it: “God bless us -- every one.”

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