NYC and Seattle seek ‘fair workweek’ legislation for fast-food workers

Municipal leaders and labor activists nationwide who fought for a $15 minimum wage now want to serve up a “fair workweek” and steady hours for fast-food workers.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set a plan in motion last week to give 65,000 hourly workers in the city’s fast-food industry more stable work schedules by requiring a two-week notice for employee shift assignments. City Council members have vowed to introduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

In Seattle, the City Council on Monday gave its unanimous approval to a similar ordinance, which will affect well-known retail and food service establishments, as well as certain full-service restaurants. Mayor Ed Murray is scheduled to sign the ordinance into law by next week.

While supporters of such proposals – called “secure scheduling” in Seattle – say working families need protection against erratic work schedules, some retail organizations argue these concerns have been blown out of proportion. The Washington Retail Association said the Seattle ordinance would make work schedules less flexible.

“The effects of the law threaten to reduce available work hours for retail employees, reduce hiring opportunities and impose burdensome bookkeeping and fines on retailers deemed to be in violation of the law,” the retail association said in a news release.

Other business groups, however, don’t see the scheduling legislation as a major burden for employers. Mark Jaffe, chief executive officer of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, told AMI Newswire that the proposal is fair and that it wouldn’t cause fast-food eateries to go out of business.
“How hard is it to schedule people two weeks in advance?” he said.

A number of citywide initiatives, from affordable housing to reasonable transportation options, have helped New York City maintain a productive workforce, Jaffe said, and the Fair Workweek legislation would do the same. “We don’t believe it’s an unreasonable burden on the employer,” he said. “This is a no-brainer.”

The proposal was directed toward fast-food workers because that’s where most of the scheduling concerns originate, Jaffe said. Many of those employees need to map out their schedules in advance because they often work more than one job, he said.

The New York State Restaurant Association expressed concern about the proposed legislation but hopes it can work with city officials to reduce the burden to its members.

“It’s troubling that fast-food restaurants, which are really a local franchisee-run small business, have been singled out yet again when these restaurants are already being subjected to greater regulations than any other industry,” said the restaurant association’s chief executive officer, Melissa Fleischut, in a prepared statement. “Labor costs for quick-serve restaurants are skyrocketing, and under state law the hospitality industry is already subject to call-in pay and extra pay for a longer-than-10 spread of hours in a single day.”

In addition to providing employees a two-week notice on work schedules, the New York City proposal would force employers who make last-minute schedule changes to pay extra compensation to affected workers. The plan would also place restrictions on the practice of what’s called “clopening” – when an employee is required to work a closing shift followed by an opening shift.

“We will regulate that practice and require that there be at least 10 hours between a closing shift and an opening shift that a worker has to perform,” de Blasio said during a public announcement last week.

The mayor dismissed anticipated concerns about layoffs resulting from the proposal, saying that he heard the same rumblings when the city was moving to expand paid sick leave for workers. “Guess what happened?” de Blasio said. “This city has added 290,000 private-sector jobs.”

Jan Teague, chief executive officer of the Washington Retail Association, said in a prepared statement that the Seattle proposal could limit the ability of businesses to take part in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program and make it more difficult for college students to find temporary jobs over the summer and during holidays.

Teague has also expressed concern that employers would end up paying higher “predictive pay” to workers in order to fill shifts resulting from a worker calling in sick or quitting abruptly.

“Any way you slice it, this ordinance will make the workplace less flexible to meet the needs of employees and employers,” Teague said during the debate over the Seattle measure. “Sadly, this ordinance will reduce the number of hours available for many retail and restaurant employees – and they cannot afford to see their incomes go down.”

In addition, she took issue with the idea of discouraging time allotments between shifts of less than 10 hours. Some workers want to have shifts close together during part of the week to free up time later for second jobs or helping to care for a family member, Teague said.

The National Retailers Association took a similar position. “Government intervention in the scheduling of employees through a one-size-fits-all approach intrudes on the employer-employee relationship and creates unnecessary mandates on how a business should operate,” the association said in a statement on its website.

Despite such concerns, the pro-worker advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy predicted that the victory for secure scheduling in Seattle would encourage other cities to follow suit.

“Those working in Seattle’s retail, restaurant and coffee chains will no longer have to turn their lives upside down just to earn enough hours to survive – and they will finally gain a greater voice in how much and when they work,” the center’s director of the Fair Workweek Initiative, Carrie Gleason, said in a prepared statement. “We can expect the vote in Seattle will inspire other cities to act.”

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