San Francisco has passed the first US "retail workers" bill of rights.
It recently voted for an increase in minimum wages and will gradually implement it over a period of three years, to reach $15 per hour.
The bill consists of two parts of legislation, with five provisions targeting an easier life for hourly workers employed at the chain stores and restaurants within the city.
Some of its terms include employers posting schedules at least two weeks in advance, offering extra hours to part-time employees, rather than employing new workers, and remunerating employees for hours when they are on call, and shifts are canceled.
These measures are being taken in a bid to protect against the unpredictable schedules which have become a massive problem for workers on low incomes. There are many employers who make use of ‘just-in-time’ scheduling software, which determines how many workers are required at a particular time, based on factors such as sales levels, traffic, and at times, weather. This software often leads to short, erratic shifts for workers.
A recent study undertaken by the University of Chicago has shown that 41% of early-career hourly workers were only informed of their schedules a week or less in advance. These hours often change dramatically and it was found that the hours varied by around 37% to what was considered to be usual hours.
This makes it difficult for those workers who have to arrange their schedules around children and other family members and those who have two or more jobs. The most important issue here though is that unpredictable shifts result in unpredictable income, which makes it almost impossible to budget.
One of the least covered and most serious problems faced by low-income Americans is income fluctuation. An Urban Institute paper during 2010 indicated that 20% of Americans within the bottom quintile of earners had to endure an income decrease of 50% and above within a year.
Workers based in San Francisco will now have to be advised two weeks ahead of time if their normal week’s 30 hours could be reduced to 15 later during the month. This may not be acceptable, but it allows them to plan better.
This type of bill is partially due to the drop in unions within the US. Wages and scheduling were previously negotiated by unions, but the declining power of labor has turned these fights into political ones.
This form of bill has been placed on the federal level, with Democrats introducing the Schedules that Work Act during July, which would have offered the same scheduling requirements. The bill is currently in committee, but it is not expected to be passed.