Secure scheduling stakeholder conversations start to wrap up

The ongoing set of stakeholder discussion groups sponsored by the City Council and the Mayor’s office are close to their end, and last Friday’s reports show that they have settled into a constructive pattern that will hopefully lead to good policy and good law.

Since their last report-out nearly a month ago, there have been four meetings: two with the employer stakeholder group and two with the employee stakeholder group. Last Friday the employer sessions were reported out by David Jones who owns several fast-food stores in Seattle (and has been a constant voice of reason), and the employee sessions were reported on by Sejal Parikh of Working Washington and Nicole Grant of MLK County Labor Council. David Mendoza from the city’s Office of Policy Innovation and Patricia Lee from the Council’s central staff also joined the conversation as they had joined the stakeholder groups. The two big issues that were discussed were “access to hours,” and the finer details (and edge cases) of predictability pay.

“Access to hours” refers to workers’ ability to pick up additional working hours, and particularly if they are part-time workers their ability to move to full time as shifts open up. Parikh was clear that from the workers’ perspective the issue is not around picking up a few hours here or there, or even an occasional extra shift; the issue is squarely around getting access to recurring, regularly-scheduled shifts. Often this comes down to what happens when a regular shift opens up, and whether it is offered to existing employees before posting the job externally to bring in someone new. There was wide agreement on both sides that shifts should be offered to existing employees first; then it just came down to the nitty-gritty details. First, how job postings work: the general consensus was that jobs should be posted for seven days for employees to see them, and posted at the work site as well as electronically (since workers often don’t go to the workplace when they aren’t working). Workers should have a 2-day period to accept a position after expressing interest. In the meantime the employer can simultaneously post the position externally as well — the employer doesn’t have to wait seven to nine days to post externally, but can’t make offers to an external candidate until internal employees have been given the opportunity.  Workers also asked for some nuances on how jobs are posted in franchises, tied to the scheduling practices. Some companies, e.g. Starbucks, will schedule an employee for shifts across a small cluster of locations; the workers suggested that in such cases open shifts should be posted at all of the shops in that cluster (but not at all shops in, say, the Seattle area).

Another nuanced case, from the employer’s side, is what happens when an employee is interested in a shift posting for a position that he or she isn’t currently qualified for — does the employee still have priority, or then are external candidates at the same priority? That didn’t get resolved. In general the workers’ advocates seemed okay with the expectation that a employees don’t have priority for shifts they are not qualified for, but insisted that those conversations happen up front: when employees are hired they should be told what positions they are qualified for and how they could become qualified for others, and shift postings should be clear on the necessary qualifications. Workers’ advocates worry that not having those conversations up front leads to biases in hiring practices and/or opportunities to use access to hours as a means of retaliation.

There is also the issue of “leftover hours,” for example  if an existing employee is interested in taking 8 hours of a ten-hour shift. There was wide agreement that employers do not have the ability to fill regular tiny shifts like the leftover 2-hour slot in this case, and below a certain threshold do not need to give priority to internal candidates who can’t or won’t take the entire shift. The point was made, though, that employers could potentially schedule awkward or extra-long shifts as a mechanism or circumvent the requirement to offer shifts to internal employees first.

The workers’ advocates also pointed out that the “access to hours” requirement could come into conflict with policies around split shifts and “clopenings,” in which case the conflicts will need to be resolved by setting a priority.

The continuation of the “predictability pay” conversation focused quickly down into some specific exceptions and edge cases. In broad terms, there is general agreement that employer-initiated schedule changes should require predictability pay, and employee-initiated ones should not.  But many of the issues come down to the level of involvement of the employer in helping to resolve employee-initiated changes, and at what threshold the employer’s involvement triggers predictability pay. For example, if an employee’s car breaks down and can’t make it into work, he or she might be stuck by the side of the road and has no ability to call other employees to try to find a substitute; but if the employer helps to find that substitute does that invoke predictability pay? As Jones put it, that puts the policy in the realm of making employers pay for things that they have no control over — a strong disincentive to getting involved. A willingly involved employer is more likely to try to help arrange a swap so that the stranded employee gets a replacement shift, as opposed to just losing hours that week. But when the employer is involved there is a fine line between encouragement and coercion, so workers might feel pressured to take (or swap) shifts. There are also issues around how to properly document whether a schedule change is employee- or employer- initiated.

Another related issue related to involving the employers in shift swaps is whether the employer has the right to approve/deny those swaps. Assuming the employees are qualified for those positions, employers have raised two cases in which they would want to be able to veto a change:

  • The “Tuesday to Saturday” issue: even within the same job, some shifts can be much more challenging than others. Saturday nights in a sit-down restaurant can be very busy, whereas Tuesday nights are often slow. An employer might believe that a new employee who normally works Tuesday evenings is not yet ready to handle a Saturday shift. Worker advocates conceded that’s a valid issue and were willing to discuss it further to find a resolution.
  • Incompatible coworkers: if there are known interpersonal issues between two employees, and employer might not want to schedule them together. The workers’ advocates called that “highly offensive,” suggesting a double-standard for hourly workers vs. higher-paid workers who are regularly expected to find a way to work with other employees regardless of their personal differences.

Council member Sawant voiced her strong preference for having few, if any, exceptions for edge cases, referring to them as “loopholes” and insisting that her experience with labor laws shows her that the laws need to avoid loopholes and rely on strong enforcement in order to make a difference. Council member Herbold took a softer stance, recognizing the importance of incenting employers to be willing participants in the process so that they didn’t take measures such as banning shift swaps altogether if they couldn’t have approval over them. Clearly there are details that haven’t been resolved yet around predictability pay, but the differences that remain have been thoroughly explored.

Grant was vocal about the huge benefits for women through secure scheduling policies, noting that they allow women to deal with their family obligations and still be competitive with the other workers. She referenced the notion of the people who get known to be “team players” because they never say “no” to a request, and that many women simply are not in a position to do that. But often just having two weeks’ advance notice on schedules changes that dynamics and creates a level playing field.

The stakeholder meetings are winding down; the next set are scheduled for June 20-21. Mendoza also noted that the study on local labor conditions will be done by July 1 and will be presented at the first committee meeting in June.