In Minneapolis, a Strong ‘Fair Scheduling’ Law for Workers Runs Into a Corporate Roadblock

Justin MillerOctober 27, 2015

Activists say progressive mayor Betsy Hodges has caved to corporate opposition to the law. (Mark Peterson / Flickr)

Less than a year after San Fran­cis­co passed a first-of-its-kind fair sched­ul­ing ordi­nance for retail employ­ers, pro­gres­sive activists in Min­neapo­lis began push­ing for an even stronger sched­ul­ing ordi­nance of their own — along with paid sick leave, wage theft pro­tec­tions, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a $15 min­i­mum wage. 

But the cam­paign, dubbed the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Agen­da, ran into a road­block ear­li­er this month when its most pow­er­ful polit­i­cal ally, May­or Bet­sy Hodges, decid­ed to aban­don the fair sched­ul­ing com­po­nent. Lan­guage in the pro­posed ordi­nance called for sched­ul­ing notice of at least two weeks in advance and extra pre­dictabil­i­ty pay” for work­ers who were sched­uled after that threshold. 

Those require­ments quick­ly awoke the local busi­ness lob­by, typ­i­cal­ly a fair­ly dor­mant polit­i­cal pow­er in a city with a strong pro­gres­sive streak. In late Sep­tem­ber, oppo­nents formed the Work­force Fair­ness Coali­tion by the Cham­ber of Com­merce, and includ­ed promi­nent mem­bers like the Min­neso­ta Busi­ness Part­ner­ship (which rep­re­sents about 80 busi­ness­es, includ­ing Tar­get, U.S. Ban­corp and Xcel Ener­gy) and the Min­neso­ta Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion. They took spe­cif­ic issue with the sched­ul­ing law, say­ing that it would impede oper­a­tions and could force busi­ness­es to flee the city. 

Many pro­gres­sive activists don’t buy that argument.

We heard the same argu­ments from the Cham­ber of Com­merce that are being made in Min­neapo­lis,” says Gor­don Mar, who led the cam­paign to pass San Francisco’s Retail Work­er Bill of Rights, which includes fair sched­ul­ing. As we’ve been imple­ment­ing the law, those argu­ments have proven to be just as hol­low as they were in business’s oppo­si­tion to oth­er work­er-friend­ly laws.”

Min­neapo­lis May­or Bet­sy Hodges ran in 2013 on a cam­paign that promised to direct­ly address the city’s stark racial dis­par­i­ties, aspir­ing for a One Min­neapo­lis.” The city has some of the largest gaps in the coun­try between whites and peo­ple of col­or for a num­ber of indi­ca­tors includ­ing rates of high school grad­u­a­tion, home­own­er­ship, low-lev­el arrests and employment. 

Those dis­par­i­ties are ram­pant in the work­place, too. For exam­ple, 63 per­cent of white work­ers in Min­neapo­lis have access to earned sick time com­pared with just 32 per­cent of Lati­no work­ers. A Min­neso­ta Depart­ment of Health report found that 79 per­cent of food work­ers — many of whom are minori­ties — lacked paid sick time. 

In her 2015 State of the City address just six months ago, Hodges out­lined an agen­da she said would address eco­nom­ic dis­par­i­ties, specif­i­cal­ly call­ing for an ambi­tious plan to imple­ment fair sched­ul­ing, wage theft pro­tec­tion and paid sick leave. But since then, Hodges appears to have tak­en business’s con­cerns to heart. 

When it comes to fair, pre­dictable sched­ul­ing, I have heard from many peo­ple, includ­ing many busi­ness own­ers, that the issue is com­pli­cat­ed and that more time is need­ed to engage in this impor­tant issue,” the may­or said in a state­ment on Octo­ber 14. As a result, I have come to the con­clu­sion that we are not in a posi­tion to resolve the con­cerns sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly on the time­line cur­rent­ly contemplated.”

While Hodges pledged to con­tin­ue push­ing for paid sick leave and wage theft enforce­ment, activists felt blind­sided by her sud­den retreat. 

Our pro­gres­sive cham­pi­ons were not pre­pared for the push­back and frankly fold­ed under the pres­sure, … cav­ing to con­ser­v­a­tive busi­ness ele­ments,” says Antho­ny New­by, exec­u­tive direc­tor for Min­neso­ta Neigh­bor­hoods Orga­niz­ing for Change, a mem­ber of the coali­tion sup­port­ing these poli­cies. Where does [Hodges] want to be allied? With work­ing peo­ple or with the worst actors of the busi­ness community?”

The day after Hodges’ announce­ment, about 300 peo­ple streamed into City Hall in down­town Min­neapo­lis to reaf­firm sup­port for all aspects of the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Agen­da. Work­ers and orga­niz­ers spoke about the dai­ly bur­dens of low-wage work and how they con­tribute to the racial dis­par­i­ties that plague a city often por­trayed as a pro­gres­sive won­der­land. Min­neapo­lis NAACP Pres­i­dent Neki­ma Levy-Pounds described the city’s sit­u­a­tion as a tale of two cities: It’s the best of times if you’re white and the worst of times if you’re black.” 

While the sched­ul­ing law lan­guage had not been set in stone, many busi­ness­es were con­cerned with its details. At first, advanced notice for sched­ules was set at four weeks, which was even­tu­al­ly scaled back to two. For every change an employ­er made to a worker’s sched­ule with­in two weeks of the shift, that work­er would earn an hour’s wage worth of pre­dictabil­i­ty pay.” For any sched­ule change with­in 24 hours of a shift, a work­er would get four hours’ pay. 

Oppo­nents were quick to cast this as an unre­al­is­tic pol­i­cy with a cost­ly bur­den placed on employ­ers, and would be com­plete­ly unwork­able for restau­rants, retail­ers and many oth­er busi­ness­es that they say are depen­dent on flex­i­ble” sched­ul­ing mod­els. Advo­cates are quick to point out, though, that cur­rent work­place sched­ul­ing stan­dards put all the cost on work­ers. For exam­ple, if a work­er relies on child­care dur­ing her shifts and an employ­er tells her to stay late, many child­care cen­ters charge fees for late pick­ups; or, hav­ing already spent mon­ey on child­care and tran­sit, she could arrive at work to find her shift has been cut. 

On fair sched­ul­ing, says Elianne Farhat with the Cen­ter for Pop­u­lar Democracy’s Fair Work­week Ini­tia­tive, it’s clear there’s going to be a cost. What gets lost in the con­ver­sa­tion is that it’s not that there isn’t a cost right now— it’s just that the work­ers are bear­ing that cost,” Farhat says. What [fair sched­ul­ing] is try­ing to do is bal­ance that cost.” 

Despite Hodges’ call for more time to parse out details on sched­ul­ing, activists aren’t back­ing off. Her announce­ment seems to have gal­va­nized many local orga­ni­za­tions that pre­vi­ous­ly were on the fence. Orga­niz­ers say they will con­tin­ue to advo­cate for paid sick leave and wage theft pro­tec­tions in the imme­di­ate future while aim­ing for an even­tu­al vic­to­ry on fair scheduling. 

Com­pro­mis­es will like­ly need to be made. While San Francisco’s sched­ul­ing law applied only to big chain stores, Minneapolis’s fair sched­ul­ing pro­pos­al is uni­ver­sal. That may need to be scaled back, accord­ing to activists: Some added flex­i­bil­i­ty for pre­dictabil­i­ty pay” require­ments may be need­ed, and fur­ther dis­cus­sion about phase-in peri­ods for small­er busi­ness­es will like­ly be com­ing. But orga­niz­ers say they didn’t expect an easy path to pass­ing the strongest sched­ul­ing law in the coun­try. In fact, at a city coun­cil meet­ing last week two mem­bers announced a plan to refer the pro­posed paid sick leave pol­i­cy to a new com­mit­tee made up of work­ers, labor lead­ers, employ­ers and busi­ness asso­ci­a­tions that would meet in mid-Novem­ber and hash out details.

‘No’ is not an answer. The ques­tion is what does it take to get a yes,” says New­by. We need to fig­ure out what is that sweet spot that’s gonna work for us. That may take a lit­tle bit more time.”

Justin Miller is a writ­ing fel­low for The Amer­i­can Prospect. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @by_jmiller
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