How not to influence the secure scheduling discussion

Lon Hatamiya presented yesterday afternoon to the Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee on San Francisco’s secure scheduling ordinance. It did not go well, and potentially damaged local employers’ credibility in trying to negotiate terms in Seattle’s own secure scheduling ordinance later this summer.

Hatamiya, who runs an “economic, strategic and business advisory firm for corporate, legal, and non-profit leaders,” was hired by the California Retailers Association (i.e. employers in California who hire a lot of hourly workers) to “provide an independent and objective analysis of the impacts of the Predictive Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees ordinance in the City and County of San Francisco, California.” The ordinance was originally approved in 2014 to go into effect in July of 2015; an extension was passed that delayed its effective date until October. Some parts of it were immediately enforced, such as the 14-day advance requirement for schedules. Other parts were more complicated and required the city to go through a rulemaking process; that completed in March of this year, and since then the entire ordinance has been enforced.

Hatamiya’s study was not particularly rigorous; by his own admission he surveyed a bunch of employees and employers, and then wrote up his observations and opinions. Worse, he conducted his survey in December 2015, when only a part of the ordinance was in effect and a “robust conversation” was being held on rulemaking for the most difficult parts, involving both employers and employees.

Hatamiya violated the two cardinal rules of social-science research: give hard numbers, and directly quote the people you’re studying. He did neither. Instead, he made several controversial statements about the effects that he believed the ordinance was having, without any data or evidence to back up any of them. Committee chair Lisa Herbold, and Council member Kshama Sawant (who is an economist) were having none of this; especially Sawant who really turned the thumbscrews. Hatamiya’s response to pretty much every question was “this is my opinion based upon what I heard from employees and employers.” But it got even worse for him when Seema Patel, the Deputy Director for the City of San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement, disagreed with him on nearly every point.   The closest thing that Hatamiya got to acceptance of any of his assertions was that the ordinance had the potential to force employees and employers to have more formal conversations given the legal and financial impacts of their communications regarding schedules, and that could have a negative impact on employee-employer relationships and culture at work.  But Patel pointed out that this was probably an artifact of Hatayima’s timing in conducting his survey during December, since at that time there were “robust conversations” happening on that very topic, and by March the issue had been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both sides.

The fact that Hatayima’s study was funded by employers started him at a deficit of credibility, but every time he opened his mouth it just got worse. Council member Burgess asked him how many employees he had surveyed; he couldn’t say (though he eventually offered that it was in the “hundreds”). Burgess likewise asked how many employers he surveyed, and Hatayima once again begged off — this time, bizarrely, for reasons of confidentiality left unexplained. That was just one more opening for Sawant to shred his credibility.

The best you can say was that it was a wasted hour. The worst is that it was a very unfortunate step back for the employers who have been part of the stakeholder roundtable sessions that have informed the debate so far. The employers started out that process defiant, but quickly learned that it was not endearing them to the Council members and switched to a much more collaborative approach. Today’s presentation was uncharacteristic of recent conversations.

Which raises an important question: how did it get scheduled?  Sawant made a quick mention in today’s meeting that a group of employers had requested that the Council hear Hatayima’s presentation, but she gave no further details. If the employers who have been such productive collaborators over the past few weeks requested it, it was a major misstep for them. If it was other employers (or a trade association) then that suggests that behind the scenes there is dissent among the employers and factions are working different agendas. That will be a disaster for them; several Council members have already voiced a deep skepticism for any concerns raised by employers, and if a sub-group of hardliners tries to drive in a new direction, they will quickly find themselves on the losing side of the legislation.

I have sent an inquiry to Council member Herbold to find out how today’s presentation came to be scheduled. I’ll update when I hear back.

What happened today was a big surprise, and far off the path from the current direction of the secure scheduling conversation. With luck, everyone will forget it happened and go back to negotiating a productive compromise.

If you like watching train wrecks, you can view the meeting video. Jump to 27:00.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Council member Herbold sent me this reply:

The Washington Retail Association requested this be heard after the committee heard from the Center for Popular Democracy.

 Central staff and I did preview the presentation; we were originally sent the long version which is attached and I asked for a condensed powerpoint version; we received the brief which was attached to the committee agenda.

We do have questions about the validity of methodology and are following up with Councilmember Herbold’s ask at the end of the meeting to provide the amount of employees and employers surveyed, the demographics, how participants were selected, and how the survey was worded.