Secure or restrictive scheduling?

Secure or restrictive scheduling?
State lawmakers have proposed a statewide worker scheduling bill that critics say will deprive both employers and workers of the ability to set work hours. Photo: freepik.com

Following in the steps of Seattle, Washington state lawmakers have introduced statewide worker scheduling legislation that proponents argue will provide better certainty for workers. However, critics at a Feb. 15 public hearing of the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee say the move is even harsher than the policy adopted by the city of Seattle and includes industries in which both the employer and employee benefit from greater flexibility.

“It is rare that you will hear from me that the Seattle ordinance is actually less restrictive than what is being proposed,” Holly Chisa with Northwest Grocery Association said.

Sponsored by Majority Deputy Leader Rebecca Saldaña (D-37), SB 5717 would create a work schedule program that would apply to employers in the food services, hospitality and retail industries who have 100 or more employees worldwide. The bill would require employees be notified of their work schedule within 14 days, stipulates that employee schedule change request be granted under certain conditions and provides compensation if the schedule changes. Employers would also have to offer workers more hours before hiring another employee.

Cities including Seattle and San Francisco and states such as Oregon have already passed worker scheduling laws. However, Seattle’s ordinance only applies to employers with 500 or more workers.

Supporters testifying at the public hearing argued that secure scheduling proposed in SB 5717 would help workers’ personal budgets by giving them advance notice of their work hours and make it easier to plan other activities.

Also in favor of SB 5717 was Seattle Hill City Tap House co-owner Mathew Hipp. “When we’re able to provide the stability for our employees, it builds a stronger community within our tap houses and the neighborhood they service.”

However, others argued that restrictive scheduling is inappropriate for full service industries such as restaurants and bars that have greater volatility in customer demand. The Washington Hospitality Association points to an internal survey of 457 Seattle restaurant workers in 2016 that found 75 percent wanted employers rather than the government to make reforms. Roughly 77 percent were “highly satisfied” with the schedule flexibility, while 69 percent were equally satisfied with the advance notice given of their schedule.

The bill would also apply to wineries such as Woodinville-based Chateau St. Michelle. Lobbyist Steve Gano told committee members that although the winery has regular business hours, they also offer the venue to host events that “also present themselves on short notice, sometimes shorter than the 14 days contemplated. Without the ability to find short notice help, wineries will…have to turn away this business which in turn diminishes our ability to grow and hire more workers, or be penalized.”

A similar situation can occur for sports bars. Sean Beavers with the Full Service Workers Alliance told lawmakers that “events can drastically alter who comes through the doors.” He added that it’s “not just businesses” who benefit from flexible schedules. “Workers choose that work environment for the same reasons.

“The people who work in the full service industry already understand the perks of having a flexible schedule,” FSWA cofounder Simone Barron said, who has worked in the full service industry for 33 years. “Secure scheduling, however, is actually restrictive scheduling, it takes away the power workers have to craft their own work/life balance and puts it into the hands of government and employers.”

She added that the “rights” workers would receive from a secure schedule “are no rights at all. We can’t waive these rights, so they are obligations.”

Another potential issue highlighted by Chisa is the requirement that employers comply with collective bargaining agreements, which can often have schedules posted later than 14 days under SB 5717 (section 18). Also, employers would have to post the schedule in the worker’s primary languages (section 2); Chisa said in some industries with 100 employees or more, there can be 40 different dialects spoken.

SB 5717’s companion bill is HB 1491 introduced by Rep. Nicole Marci (D-43), which had a Feb. 5 public hearing in the House Committee on Labor & Workplace Standards. Both bills are scheduled for executive action on Feb. 21.

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