Working People Deserve Schedules That Work

Janelle Jones

Janelle Jones Economic Analyst, Economic Policy Institute

For millions of hourly workers, a predictable, stable work schedule is rare. Work hours can vary not just week to week, but even day to day for millions working in retail, restaurant, hospitality, and building cleaning jobs. Two scheduling techniques often used in these industries can wreak havoc on workers: just-in-time and on-call scheduling. Employers use just-in-time scheduling to account for predicted consumer demand, which often leaves workers with just a few days’ notice of their hours. On-call scheduling provides even less notice, as workers know the length of their schedule just hours before a shift starts. These methods make it impossible for people to balance their work with personal responsibilities like taking classes, maintaining another job, caring for a sick relative, or arranging child care. The Schedules That Work Act, which is being introduced today by Representative Rosa DeLauro provides hourly workers with protections they are not often given by their employers: advance notice of schedules and the right to request a schedule change.

Workers in retail and food services are less likely on average to be able to decide, or have any input into, their own schedules. Nearly half of low-wage and/or hourly workers have no input into their work hours, including the inability to make even minor adjustments. Nine-out-of-ten workers in retail and fast food service jobs report variable hours, and part-time workers are even more likely to have variable and unpredictable schedules. The lack of fair scheduling shifts the cost of uncertainty from employers to employees who already carry the burden of low wages and minimal benefits. At the same time, unpredictable schedules lead to higher turnover as workers leave to find a more stable work schedule or are fired due to the inability to meet on-call demands. This turnover is a significant cost to employers in terms of profitability, productivity, and service.

Unstable hours lead to unstable earnings. For low-wage workers, volatile earnings make it harder to meet regular financial responsibilities like housing, food, childcare, and transportation. Research has shown that nearly half of working people with volatile monthly earnings blame this hardship on their irregular work hours. Schedule variability also has negative health effects on people and their families, as they experience more parental stress, psychological distress, and inconsistent childcare.

Fair scheduling is not just a worker issue, it is a gender and racial justice issue. This issue is of particular importance to women, who are the primary breadwinners in four-out-of-ten  families with children and shoulder a majority of caregiver responsibilities. About half of the women working for hourly wages do so in low-wage sectors like retail and food service. People of color and women are over-represented among the millions of low wage workers who work on call. Women of color are also more likely to be single parents and more likely to work in jobs paying less than $15 an hour than their white counterparts.

While states and cities have taken the lead on passing fair scheduling legislation that makes a difference for working people and their families, this is an issue across the country and as such demands national attention. Providing workers with advance schedules and predictable pay helps all employees, both full- and part-time. The Schedules That Work Act would give workers the right to request a schedule change to care for a child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, work a second job, take classes, or attend training opportunities. The stable and predictable schedules provided by this legislation would be a win for low-wage workers who deserve a voice in their workplaces.


Reposted from EPI.