By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The costs of doing business in Seattle continue to evolve as shown by the City Council’s approval of a phased-in, $15 minimum wage in 2014 and paid sick leave in 2011. This time, the focus is on how employees are scheduled, as well as how they are paid.
Hourly workers in the city are seeking secure scheduling — predictable and stable work schedules
in which they have input, as well as income stability. Secure scheduling has been the topic of a few public hearings, specifically, what works best for the entire community and the human dignity of those who are not salaried workers.
Secure scheduling support
Four business stakeholder meetings for employers have been held at Seattle City Hall. The April 20 meeting focused on predictability pay, the right to request (employee input into schedules), and the right to rest (time off between shifts).
Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez spoke at a Secure Scheduling Online Town Hall on Feb. 4, a public meeting organized by Working Washington. She said there’s no doubt city officials will hear from big business and employers.
“It’s going to be important to listen to their perspective, but to also be very clear with the intention of making sure that this policy passes so that we are doing the right thing for workers and working families and, in particular, women and people of color.”
A former low-wage worker and a lawyer for 10 years, Gonzalez said she represents “hundreds of people in class actions who were being ripped off from wages … and so, this is something that is very important to me.”
Teizi Mersai, business operations manager at Lam’s Seafood Market, oversees 63 people, 52 of whom are non-exempt hourly employees. “And half of those are part-timers by choice,” he said.
After attending one business stakeholder meeting, he said, “Everything is still on the table. Nothing is firm. There’s not even a draft ordinance yet, so they’re still gathering input.”
Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the city council created a committee, which she chairs, that oversees labor standards.
“To me, that’s a real strong indication that there is an appetite for continued work on this issue … not just in this city, but nationwide,” she said.
San Francisco’s Fair Scheduling and Treatment of Formula Retail Employees Ordinance took effect in 2014. Similar legislation has been introduced in Washington, D.C., Albuquerque, and Minneapolis, along with 12 states.
Among the many issues that may be covered in the final ordinance, some wreak havoc on working families and make child care planning, among other responsibilities, more difficult, hitting hourly employees, primarily women, hardest. Working Washington’s Our Time Counts campaign began last autumn and focuses on these same issues and more.
“We think it’s appropriate for the city to step in and make sure that people have the flexibility and balance they need to live their lives … to get that second job, to start a business, to go back to school,” said Working Washington spokesperson Sage Wilson.
“And I think that’s certainly true for Asian Americans, as it is in any other community we have.”
On-call scheduling practices are common in retail, restaurant, janitorial, and housekeeping jobs. They currently require part-time employees to offer full-time availability with no guarantee of work.
D.C. Jobs with Justice announced the results of its 2015 survey of hourly workers in Washington, D.C., which showed that about 30 percent of retail employees were given fewer than three days’ advance notice of their work schedule.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said last August on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “Half of low-wage workers have little or no say when they work, and an estimated 20 to 30 percent are in jobs where they can be called in to work at the last minute.”
“Imagine trying to plan a monthly budget when your work hours and paycheck can fluctuate 70 percent in a single month.”
Herbold said she was once a low-income, working mom attending college at the same time. “I routinely had to make the choice between school and work, whether or not I was going to go to class or go to a shift that I had just learned about.”
Hourly employees seek at least two-weeks advance notice on work schedules.
A businessman’s perspective
Unexpected events happen in the day-to-day operation of a business, and employers try to balance customer demand with their employees’ scheduling concerns.
Uwajimaya store director Alann Hamada says it’s in Uwajimaya’s best interest to work with its employees on rescheduling all the time. The Seattle-based, Asian specialty grocery retailer employs over 400 people.
“I challenge anybody out there to try and find a business owner who doesn’t work with their employees,” Mersai said. “When we do make short-notice schedule changes, we ask the employees if they are available or not, and employees always have a choice of saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ … Employees are the key component of their business.”
Hamada attended one of the business stakeholder meetings and said if Uwajimaya has to call an employee to come in for a minimum four-hour shift, the company makes it worth their while.
“If you don’t allow employers to have flexibility (to call in employees on short notice), employees suffer as well.”
“But if we have to pay them double, then maybe we don’t call anybody in. Our business suffers because we don’t have the customer service to provide. That employee who wants hours isn’t going to get hours because of that. It’s too punitive,” Hamada said about the proposed ordinance.
Mersai says there should be no penalty to business owners for making short-notice schedule changes because there’s a change in business conditions.
He said, “They’re reacting to a change to be able to keep the business operating at an optimum level.”
“Really, the employer is just providing a job, and it’s up to the employee to decide if that job fits their criteria of economic certainty or not.”
The second practice, known as “clopenings,” occurs when employees are scheduled to close the store late at night, then go back and open it a few hours later the next morning. Hourly employees seek at least 11 hours between shifts, instead of back-to-back shifts.
Hiring is another issue of concern. Current part-time workers seek more work hours before an employer decides to hire more people.
Herbold understands that employers may view the proposed ordinance as hurting businesses. She said, “I think one of the best ways of dealing with the inevitable push back we’ll get is by making it commonly understood that this is a problem for our community.”
“And as far as who loses if we don’t do this, is our community.”
Hamada said, “It seems that a lot of this legislation is coming about because of the worst-case scenarios of businesses that really don’t care or they have a lot of people who want those jobs, and they’re willing to do those things, and the rest of us are having to deal with that.”
“A lot of this isn’t necessarily new to us, but anytime you have legislation, it takes away from efficiency. Certainly, if we penalize our employees, then our business is going to suffer. So this, in some ways, does penalize the company.”
Gonzalez mentioned one finding: 8,000 new restaurants have opened in downtown Seattle in 2015.
“I think that statistic, in and of itself, flies in the face of that assertion that treating workers well and paying a living wage and providing benefits and continuing to do that is going to be bad for business,” she said.
“Now there may be someday where there’s a tipping point, but I don’t think that that time is now.”
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.