Philadelphia Just Passed the Strongest Fair Scheduling Law in the Nation

Bryce Covert December 6, 2018

More than 130,000 workers are expected to benefit from the new fair workweek law. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Philadel­phia, the poor­est big city in the coun­try, just enact­ed the most sweep­ing bill yet to give low-wage work­ers some con­trol over their schedules.

The city’s new law, which passed the city coun­cil on Thurs­day, will require busi­ness­es with more than 250 employ­ees and more than 30 loca­tions world­wide to pro­vide employ­ees their sched­ules at least 10 days in advance. If any changes are made to their sched­ules after that, employ­ers will owe employ­ees more mon­ey. Employ­ers will also be required to offer more hours as they become avail­able to exist­ing employ­ees who want them rather than hir­ing new peo­ple, and they’ll be banned from retal­i­at­ing against those who either request or decline more hours.

The law is poised to have a huge impact: A recent sur­vey con­duct­ed by UC Berke­ley found that among food and retail sec­tor work­ers in Philadel­phia, 62 per­cent receive their sched­ules less than two weeks ahead of time and two-thirds work irreg­u­lar or vari­able sched­ules. Almost half usu­al­ly work 30 hours or less each week even though less than 15 per­cent have a sec­ond job to sup­ple­ment their incomes.

It seems that employ­ers are being less and less cog­nizant of their work­ers’ needs and home lives,” not­ed Nadia Hewka, an employ­ment lawyer with Com­mu­ni­ty Legal Ser­vices of Philadel­phia, which advo­cat­ed for the bill. This would just put a lit­tle bit of bal­ance back into that equation.”

The effort to help work­ers con­trol their sched­ules start­ed around a year ago, when advo­cates con­vened to dis­cuss how Philadel­phia could take action on its own to improve liv­ing stan­dards for its res­i­dents. Philadel­phia is a very high-pover­ty city,” Hewka not­ed. More than a quar­ter of the city’s pop­u­la­tion lives below the pover­ty line. So advo­cates were inter­est­ed in any­thing that we can do to raise the bot­tom just a lit­tle bit.” But thanks to a state pre­emp­tion law, the city can’t raise the min­i­mum wage — that pow­er is reserved for the state gov­ern­ment. So the city coun­cil has turned to a num­ber of oth­er mea­sures that can make life for work­ing peo­ple eas­i­er: paid sick leave, an anti-wage theft ordi­nance, a salary his­to­ry ban, ban the box leg­is­la­tion and now a fair sched­ul­ing law.

What I know is that I can’t be par­a­lyzed just because the state has lim­it­ed our capac­i­ty to be able to direct­ly raise the min­i­mum wage,” said Helen Gym, the first-term coun­cilmem­ber who intro­duced the fair work­week bill. We have to talk about oth­er things that impact people’s lives and could also improve them.”

The for­mer com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er came into the coun­cil look­ing for some­thing that could real­ly grap­ple with this incred­i­bly vast and intractable sit­u­a­tion around deep and entrenched pover­ty in our city.” As she spoke with low-wage work­ers and those who work with them — teach­ers, lawyers, anti-pover­ty advo­cates — every­one brought up how unsta­ble sched­ules were dis­rupt­ing people’s lives. This was a major, major issue,” she said.

As a munic­i­pal­i­ty, we have to do some­thing,” she added. We have the author­i­ty and the respon­si­bil­i­ty to act here as one of the largest cities in the coun­try.” Her col­leagues appar­ent­ly agreed: It has been one of the most pop­u­lar bills to move through our coun­cil in a while,” she said.

While oth­er places, such as Ore­gon, New York City, San Fran­cis­co and Seat­tle, have sim­i­lar sched­ul­ing leg­is­la­tion, Philadelphia’s goes fur­ther by cov­er­ing work­ers in all indus­tries, not just those in retail. Of all the bills that exist around the coun­try, ours will be the most far-reach­ing,” Gym not­ed. Hewka cred­its the involve­ment of UNITE HERE Philly, which rep­re­sents hotel and restau­rant work­ers and advo­cat­ed for the bill. 

Hewka sees the new law as an anti-pover­ty mea­sure. It’s dif­fi­cult when you don’t know how many hours you’re work­ing and how much you’ll be earn­ing by the end of the week or the end of the month to make the bills you need to make,” she said. Someone’s income isn’t just deter­mined by her wage, but by how many hours she works. A more pre­dictable set of hours, and the abil­i­ty to get more as they become avail­able, can make a big difference.

And there are oth­er ben­e­fits to a steady sched­ule. Hewka not­ed that many peo­ple feel that if min­i­mum wage work­ers don’t like their pay they should get bet­ter jobs. How are you sup­posed to improve your lot in life and go to school if your class sched­ules are set and your work sched­ule always changes?” Hewka not­ed. It’s also near­ly impos­si­ble to hold down a sec­ond job to make ends meet if the first one is con­stant­ly shifting.

The bind is par­tic­u­lar­ly tight for par­ents. When [work­ers] are not allowed to have a say in their sched­ules,” Hewka said, it impacts their entire fam­i­ly.” One big hur­dle is find­ing child­care to fit a work sched­ule when that work sched­ule is con­stant­ly shifting.

On top of that, par­ents have to get their chil­dren to school, doc­tors’ offices, after-school activ­i­ties and oth­er appoint­ments. Poor fam­i­lies are also often nav­i­gat­ing the demands of wel­fare offices or child ser­vices, Hewka point­ed out, all of which typ­i­cal­ly require day­time appoint­ments. All of these sys­tems assume that you’re avail­able to do these tasks,” she said. She has even had clients fail to show up to meet­ings in her office because they had to be at work instead.

Jobs don’t rec­og­nize [work­ers’] human­i­ty, let alone these kinds of demands on their lives,” she added. You’re spin­ning plates up in the air with all of these things in your life. A work sched­ule chang­ing can real­ly cause every­thing to come crash­ing down.”

Gym hopes not just to improve Philadel­phi­ans’ work­ing lives, but to make a big­ger impact. We’re try­ing to change the way in which we talk about pover­ty and the nature of work these days,” she said. Not only did we set a stan­dard for what hap­pens around the state, but we sent a mes­sage across the nation that we need to see an eco­nom­ic jus­tice agenda.”

Bryce Covert, a con­tribut­ing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has writ­ten for The New Repub­lic, The Nation, the Wash­ing­ton Post, the New York Dai­ly News, New York Mag­a­zine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Excep­tion­al Mer­it in Media Award from the Nation­al Women’s Polit­i­cal Caucus.
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