In recent years, low-wage workers and labor groups have agitated for higher wages, paid sick days, and other rights and protections that typically aren’t afforded to those working in industries such as fast food, big-box retail, and janitorial services. In Seattle particularly, this labor movement has had a great deal of success in generating not just public support, but legislation. In 2012, the city enacted an ordinance mandating sick leave for all workers. More controversially, the city passed a law that will gradually move the minimum wage towards $15 an hour for workers citywide.
After these successes, labor activists in Seattle have set their sights on a facet of low-wage work that sounds dull but is critically important to workers’ quality of life: how employers schedule their workers’ hours. As a result, Seattle’s city council has recently begun drafting scheduling regulations, and since the initiative has the public support of a majority of councilmembers as well as the mayor, it’s expected to pass sometime this summer.
Scheduling can seem like a prosaic issue, calling to mind day planners and email back-and-forths. But for a large number of workers in the United States, schedules are sources of great stress. It's pretty simple: Often, hourly workers don't know when, or how much, they're going to work during any given week. Many workers, particularly in the hospitality and retail industries, are asked to show up at only a few hours' notice; some find themselves receiving such calls on days they didn’t expect to work. And an even larger number of workers are unaware of their schedules until a couple days before they’re to report to work, making it difficult for them to coordinate childcare, medical appointments, and schooling.
This sort of scheduling insecurity is increasingly pervasive, especially among young workers. According to a 2014 University of Chicago study, 41 percent of workers aged 26 to 32 don't know their work schedules at least a week in advance. And, 74 percent of workers in the same group report that they work a different number of hours week to week: One week, it might be 12 hours. The next, it could be 40. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that attorneys general in eight states and Washington, D.C., have started scrutinizing the scheduling practices of more than a dozen large retailers.