The Fight For $15 and Fair Schedules

On April 15, thousands of workers and their allies rallied for better wages.  The Fight for $15 has expanded from a small group of fast food workers to thousands of retail employees, child care workers, home care providers, and adjunct professors. Indeed, news outlets are now reporting on how presidential campaigns will respond to the movement.  On this blog, both Inayat Hemani and Jenn Siegel have described the Fight for $15 in detail. I want to home in on a related aspect of the fight for better jobs—hours; specifically, the opportunity to work full-time and on a regular schedule.

As City Limits recently reported, “The problem of low-wages in New York City and across the U.S. is, in some ways, not about wages at all. It’s also about hours—or the lack thereof. A 2012 study of more than 400 retail workers by the Retail Action Project found that only 17 percent had a regular schedule.” The New York Times has similarly reported: “The average weekly hours of private-sector employees, which fell sharply during the Great Recession, are still falling in [New York City], even in the midst of strong economic expansion, according to the Independent Budget Office.” 

For many part-time workers, schedules are also irregular and unpredictable. Such irregularity results, at least in part, from the rise in workforce management software. “Such software,” explains a recent New Republic article, “offers real-time analysis for staffing needs. When customers flock to a store, managers bring in on-call workers. When business is slow, managers don’t call those workers in—or they turn them away.”  Many employers likewise give their employees less than one week’s notice of their upcoming work schedule.  As the New York Times reported last summer, “parents, child care providers and policy experts” argue these scheduling practices “inject[] turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermin[e] efforts to expand preschool access, driv[e] some mothers out of the work force and redistribute[] some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families.” Moreover, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, these employers may be breaching a New York’s “reporting time” statute, which requires employers to pay a specified wage to employees who report to work. The New York AG’s office recently sent letters to thirteen retailers requesting information and documents concerning their scheduling practices.

Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, low-wage workers will still likely face the negative consequences of unpredictable schedules. The spirit of the Fight for $15—a cause for which thousands rallied last week—is not just about wages. It’s about workplace fairness. In addition to fair wages, workers deserve fair schedules.

David Tracey

David Tracey works primarily on cases involving discrimination, wage and hour violations, employee benefits, and civil rights in the N.Y. office of Sanford Heisler, LLP.  Before becoming a lawyer, David worked as a community organizer around issues of tenants’ rights, environmental health, and gun control. He prides himself on his Bob Dylan impressions that allow him to dominate the karaoke scene.   

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