Opinion: San Francisco provides a cautionary tale on scheduling law
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: October 2016
Newspaper: Puget Sound Business Journal
Seattle has now become the second major city after San Francisco to pass a law intended to limit how and when employers can schedule their employees.
Proponents in the labor movement are trying to build momentum for their cause elsewhere in the country, including cities like New York, as well as states like California and Oregon. But early evidence from the Bay Area suggests legislators should proceed cautiously in their efforts to dictate work schedules.
San Francisco’s law, formally titled the Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinance, requires large chain restaurants and retailers to provide work schedules two weeks in advance, with a penalty of up to four hours of pay for subsequent changes. Employers must also provide up to four hours of pay for scheduled on-call shifts when the employee is told not to report, and offer in writing additional work to certain part-timers before hiring more staff.
In San Francisco as elsewhere, the proposal is pitched as a means to promote “regular, full-time jobs” for employees currently working flexible, part-time schedules. But Census Bureau suggest that most of these employees aren’t interested in the additional work: Dr. Aaron Yelowitz of the University of Kentucky estimates that just 13.9 percent of the affected part-timers at San Francisco’s large retail and restaurant establishments were working that schedule involuntarily.
In Seattle, the same data show that just 17 percent of part-timers in Seattle’s retail, restaurant, and hotel industry are involuntary part-time.
The demographics of the affected employees help explain their desire for part-time work: For instance, 28 percent of the affected employees in San Francisco (27 percent in Seattle) are students who need a job that fits with their school schedule. Not surprisingly, these employees aren’t thrilled with a new law designed to limit the flexibility of their schedule. An analysis of the San Francisco ordinance from one California consultancy, the Hatamiya Group, noted that affected employees were “frustrated with not being able to change their schedules when needed.”
Similarly, the Washington Post reported that employees were not pleased to discover “the law discourages employers from offering extra shifts on short notice, because they would have to pay the last-minute schedule change penalty”–even if the employee was voluntarily interested in working additional hours.
These aren’t isolated complaints. My organization asked Dr. Lloyd Corder, president of market research firm CorCom Inc, to field a survey of affected businesses six months after San Francisco’s law took effect. (52 businesses responded in total.) In response to the ordinance, more than one-third of responding businesses were offering employees less flexibility to make schedule changes. One in five surveyed businesses had cut back on their number of part-time hires, and a similar number were now scheduling fewer employees per shift.
For the labor unions supporting these laws, the reduced availability of part-time positions is a feature rather than a bug of these laws; full-time employees are more likely to desire union representation. (Over 90 percent of unionized employees in the US work full-time.) But these changes are cold comfort for the majority of part-timers who seek these positions because of the schedule flexibility they offer.