In a move that could inspire similar legislation in other cities nationwide, the Seattle City Council “secure scheduling” ordinance is likely to pass Monday after clearing the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts (CRUEDA) committee this week by a vote of 5-0.
For qualifying businesses, it would mandate two-week advance notice in writing of work schedules, and penalties on employers for changing work shifts on short notice. It would also dictate to whom employers can offer extra hours, and would impose a heavy documentation burden to show compliance. Workers covered by similar union contracts would be exempt.
The council’s move to intervene with granular and prescriptive regulations directed at worker scheduling practices has sparked serious concerns.
A Seattle employment attorney warned the measure would conflict with requirements of federal and state law. Industry associations, employers and policy analysts are concerned that more Seattle City Council micromanagement on workplace matters will make the city an even more difficult place to do business.
‘Phony…Assertions’ And ‘Hollow…Committee Meetings’
“I look back on this experience and see a phony list of assertions and hollow council committee meetings to justify these onerous and complicated rules,” said Jan Teague, President and CEO of the Washington Retail Association (WRA), in a statement.
The WRA continues to “be disappointed with the speed at which Seattle is moving on adopting workplace rules for scheduling,” said Teague. There would be “no room for human error,” she added.
‘Huge Concerns’ for Grocers
“It’s distressing to see public officials adopt policy that will stifle economic development and the creation of jobs,” Jan Gee, President and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA), told Lens. “There are huge concerns within our industry on this and what it will mean for their future in Seattle.” WFIA represents independent grocers and their suppliers.
The measure would require food and retail service businesses with 500 or more employees worldwide to adhere to its scheduling mandates. Restaurants with that number of workers, or more, would be required to comply only if they had 40 or more locations around the globe.
The Council refused to offer the same exemption for grocers, according to Gee.
“This is nothing but pure politics, not public policy. Nobody has been able to answer my question as to what would be the policy good” of extending the exemption “to the restaurants and not to our grocery stores,” said Gee.
12 Fines Included
Twelve fines are included within the measure. Causes include failing to offer additional hours to existing employees, or compensate them with predictability pay for adjusting the schedule, or keep detailed records as prescribed. Many of the fines start at $500 and increase by half with each subsequent violation of a specific provision, for a ten-year period.
The ordinance would be enforced by the Office of Labor Standards (OLS). OLS opened in April 2015 and has a current annual budget $3.6 million. According to the current OLS dashboard, the city has recovered $327,986.25 since then for workers, by enforcing Seattle’s array of labor relations laws. Since OLS opened, 232 investigations have been completed and 172 remain open.
CRUEDA considered 10 amendments for the Seattle measure during its September 13 meeting. One amendment passed by the committee would allow employers to offer in-person group communication to prevent excluding employees who may not have access to their phone on shift when additional hours are announced.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant and members from Mayor Ed Murray’s office shared concerns this would allow employers to abuse the provision as a loophole and result in coercion. The Council passed it 4-1, with Sawant voting against the measure.
Conflicts With Family Leave Laws
Michael Reilly, an Employment Attorney for Lane Powell PC, sent a letter that the measure would conflict with federal and state family leave laws. This is because the city ordinance would require employers to place employees returning from leave on schedule, even when they are unable to return and work normal hours.
Even worse, when employers comply with their “obligations under the ordinance and the employee does not return as expected,” Reilly wrote, they would still “need to pay ‘predictability pay’ to cover the employee’s extended absence.”
Two labor and employment lawyers with the Seattle branch of the firm Fisher Phillips, Catharine Morisset and Rochelle Nelson, wrote this month that the ordinance would have a number of unintended consequences.
“The proposed law gives little guidance as to how an employer should sort through the myriad requests, except to give preferential treatment to employees with children, second jobs, or in school” which might cause employee discord, wrote the attorneys.
They added the ordinance is “also likely a harbinger of similar laws in other jurisdictions. Oregon, California, New York, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington D.C., and Illinois are among those jurisdictions currently considering similar legislation, and worker advocates will no doubt push for a further spread of predictable scheduling laws in 2017.”
Small Business Concerns
Heidi Mann, Owner of a Subway restaurant in Seattle, attended the previous three committee meetings to voice her concerns.
“The biggest thing that I disagree with is when an employee doesn’t give you two weeks notice and they quit….We’re a small business, we can’t afford that margin of paying this predictability pay” to bring in replacements on short notice “if somebody does not give us proper notice,” Mann told CRUEDA at the September 13 meeting.
Sarah Chernin, a member of United Food And Commercial Workers Local 21, said at the meeting that knowing what to expect is key. “Because of unpredictable hours, workers can’t depend on a stable week-to-week pay.” The union represents approximately 46,000 grocery store, health care and retail workers in Seattle.
Next Steps Being Considered
Gee told Lens the same coalition of affected business associations who wrote a letter to Mayor Ed Murray in August have been evaluating what to do if the ordinance passes on September 19.
“We were waiting to see what amendments they might adopt but [they]…were very small and not any major policy adjustments. We were hoping that they would pass reasonable amendments…but that wasn’t the path they chose,” said Gee.
Gee told Lens the coalition were planning on meeting sometime after the full council decision.
A similar law is already in effect in San Francisco, where employers reported offering less schedule flexibility. Other measures in Washington D.C. and Minneapolis have stalled.