Oregon is working to pass a law to require employers to treat their workers’ schedules with a little more consideration:
The Fair Work Week Act would set work scheduling standards for the largest retail, hospitality and food service employers – those with at least 500 employees worldwide. Starting in July 2018, those companies would have to give their Oregon employees written estimates of their work schedules seven days before the start of the work week. The notice requirement would increase to 14 days in July 2020.
The bill would set other requirements, too, including the right for employees to rest between shifts and receive extra pay if they’re scheduled to work two shifts with less than a 10-hour break in between. Hannah Taube, spokeswoman for the Working Families Party, praised the measure on Thursday. The party worked with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 union and other interests to push for passage of the bill.
To be perfectly honest, before I read the details I had vaguely figured that they would take a legitimate issue and turn it on its head by offering something I couldn’t support. Perhaps I should have known better since among states that recently raised the minimum wage they are the only ones to take regional cost of living into account. So something may be working right in Oregon, and after reading the details I am happy to report that the terms actually sound pretty reasonable to me. It’s not the bill that I would have written, but it’s probably one I would have voted for.
My nitpicks actually run in both directions. On the one hand, the 500 employee minimum strikes me as awfully generous to employers. That’s going to exclude an awful lot of employers. While I do like giving McDonald’s franchisees and owner-operators of gas stations and the like a leg up on their corporate competitors, that leaves a lot of employees unaffected by the legislation. The counterargument for this is that if you force the big employers to do it, the small ones might have to in order to keep up. It may simply set an informal standard. Employees will come to expect it and employers will at least try to abide by it, which is often more than they are doing now.
I think they should simply do seven and wait-and-see rather than automatically beefing it up to 14 by 2020. I am glad that they are giving so much lead time on the increase from 7 to 14, however. I am also not big on the 10 hours between shifts, but I’m not going to go to the mats over it. My man Hei Lun Chan drew attention to another concern:
In my job this happens 50+ times a week–people have shifts extended or added because others are late, call out, there’s a storm, etc. 4/
— Hei Lun Chan (@heilun_chan) June 25, 2017
He worries that this will result in worse customer service, which it might. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for employers to change the schedules around at the last minute. Indeed, for most of my employers this has really been a non-issue. My employers – even when they worked in the service industry – didn’t like having things up in the air any more than anyone else. I don’t recall if I always had a full 7 days of lead time, but it was certainly enough.
If I felt like I could generalize from my own experience, I might be against this. However, there have been enough stories over enough time of last-minutes scheduling that’s I do believe it has become a problem and that employers have found ways to take advantage (and there may have been more of it going on this, that I was just unaware of). So while I am not unsympathetic to employers just trying to meet staffing needs, to some extent the industry hasn’t earned my trust on these matters.
This may be a non-issue, however. The bill (PDF) does provide for a series of exceptions in the case of adverse weather, absences, and the very sorts of things that Hei mentions. The law does stress that employees can be asked but not required to work late. Would they pretty much refuse to work without the extra pay? Would they basically have to offer the extra pay at the outset as a practical matter? Or is hours hours? Would it depend on employers being decent much of the rest of the time?
Once again, this is the sort of thing that bad faith gets an employer. I don’t lament if the employees have a little extra leverage here, and I am less worried than I might otherwise be that employers have to be a little more careful. I can imagine it coming around and biting parents in the posterior if their potential kid-is-sick absences cost the company more dearly. Time will tell.
But the law steps in where culture fails, and there’s never any guarantee the law will do a better job than culture might have done, if only the actors had tended to it.
Image by Damian Gadal