Secure scheduling conversation starts to converge

Tuesday morning the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee continued its series of discussions on secure scheduling with representatives of both employees and employers. There’s plenty of good news: the conversations are getting more productive, and the major policy issues are beginning to converge to specific proposals.

The conversations are structured as opportunities to “report out” on stakeholder roundtable discussions being organized by the Mayor’s office and the Office of Labor Standards. Employees and employers each hold their own roundtables, and each is invited to give a report to the Council after the sessions.

Both groups discussed “right to request” and a recent survey fielded to collect data on local issues with scheduling practices; in addition, the employee group discussed predictability pay, and the employers discussed split shifts.

For the most part, both groups are now bringing ideas to the table, and in some cases specific proposals for regulations. They also both seem willing to concede points and work toward compromises.

There was a bit of heat around the discussion of “right to request” which had more to do with simply defining the term; the employer group was conflating it with the separate issue of “access to hours” — the topic of the next roundtable session. But the labor advocates’ group was more interested in discussing the various degrees of policy that could be enforced, ranging from the lightest touch “the right to request shifts that they are available/unavailable for,” though “having an open dialogue with their supervisors,” to the heavy-handed “having an actual representative in the room with them as they negotiate their schedules.”  And somewhat surprisingly, the labor advocates proposed the lightest touch: simply the right to request without retaliation (retaliation is often in the form of limiting the number of hours that an employee is scheduled for). The employers were on board with that approach, and claimed that all the participating employers used a form to collect shift preferences. They also noted that it needed to be an ongoing conversation because employees’ needs change frequently — everything from class schedules shifting from semester to the next, to family commitments or even a second job — and that keeping the shift preferences up to date is an ongoing challenge.

The labor advocates also brought a specific proposal on “predictability pay”:

  • When a shift is cancelled, cut or added within the “advance notice” period (most likely two weeks) but more than 24 hours before the beginning of the shift, employers must pay the employee an additional hour’s wages.
  • If the shift is cancelled or cut within 24 hours of the beginning of the shift, the employer must pay 4 hours’ wages or the full pay for the shift, whichever is less.
  • If a shift is added within 24 hours of the beginning of the shift, then one additional hour’s wages must be paid.
  • The extra pay requirement would be waived for shift swaps.

For their part, the employers claimed to be “on the same page” with labor on the right to request, and on split shifts observed that some employees might ask for a split shift to try to get more hours, but then could end up stuck with that shift long term; they offered that split shifts need to be re-assessed regularly to ensure that they are not being abused by employers.

Simultaneously, Council members Herbold and Gonzalez are working  to gather both local and national data to clarify the extent of secure scheduling issues. They are holding a special committee meeting to review the data on May 27, and they have invited in representatives from San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement to present in late May. They have also commissioned a survey on local labor practices; that survey is online and you can participate here.  The labor advocates at the meeting raised two concerns about the study: first, that its methodology is unscientific; and second, that the survey itself is a tactic to delay the adoption of secure scheduling regulations. On the first point, Herbold asked the labor advocates for a written list of their concerns about the survey’s methodology. And on the second point she assured them that it is not a delaying tactic and the longest it might push out legislation would be four weeks.

The low point of the meeting was when Council member Sawant picked another fight with the employers. They have tried repeatedly to raise awareness of edge cases and exceptions that would result in unintended consequences if scheduling regulations were written overly broad; for instance, if a tightly-scripted set of scheduling rules prevented a manager from being able work through performance issues with an employee. Sawant has repeatedly interpreted this as an attempt by the employers to stop regulations entirely, arguing that the policy should be built around the majority case, not the exceptions. In truth, good policy encompasses both: it centers around the most common situations but anticipates the boundaries and exceptions. Herbold and Gonzalez seem much more attuned to the nuances of writing good laws, and are listening carefully to both sides, so hopefully their direction will prevail.

Herbold noted that the next set of stakeholder roundtables will cover “access to hours”, a key issue with interesting perspectives on both sides and one where she expects “a robust  discussion.”

The discussion has come a long way through its arc of meetings, and it’s encouraging that it’s found a mostly positive tone where both sides are making constructive contributions and concessions. The recommendations for regulations are starting to converge nicely, and assuming the next conversation goes well the Council will have a decent basis for writing a useful ordinance that provides important protections for workers without creating undue burdens on employers.