Seattle City Council to vote on stabilizing worker schedules

SEATTLE — The full Seattle City Council will vote Monday on an ordinance providing protections for workers when schedule changes happen suddenly.

The ordinance approved by a council committee would apply to retail and food businesses that have more than 500 employees and more than 40 locations worldwide.

“A few months ago, I was homeless, living in my car and numerous homeless shelters because I did not get enough hours to get by. But also, I was four hours shy on a limit for low-income housing,” said Jennifer Wilson, a grocery store worker.

Wilson told the committee that she is now off the streets, but that paying bills can still be difficult when her hours fluctuate.

Others said the schedule assignments feel like a roller coaster.

Elliott Jensen, who works at a Lake City Starbucks, said, “I have to laugh to keep from crying. It’s completely utterly random one week to the next. It seems as though they’ve just rolled the dice.”

To help them achieve more predictable schedules, the ordinance would do the following:

  1. Good-faith estimate of work schedule: The employer tells the employee upon hiring how much they're expected to work, and adjustments can be made annually if needed.
  2. Right for employee to rest: There should be 10 hours between work shifts, unless the employee agrees to such a schedule. In those cases, the employer pays time and a half for hours that are less than 10 hours apart.
  3. Advanced notice: Employers give schedules 14 days in advance.
  4. Additional compensation for work schedule changes: When an employer adds hours to a worker's schedule with less than 14 days' notice, the employer pays one additional hour of wages. When an employer cuts hours with short notice, the employer pays half of the wages of the hours that were cut. (See below for more details)
  5. Access to hours: Employers have to provide existing employees access to additional hours before new employees are hired.

The ordinance does not affect union contracts.

“It allows people to bargain with their unions, to reach similar requirements that still meet the intent of the policy,” said Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

Heidi Mann, a Subway franchisee, approached the council committee on Tuesday, saying she would have difficulty affording these payments for necessary, sudden schedule changes.

Mann told KIRO 7, “We’re already worried what’s going to happen in January when we’re paying $15 minimum wage. And now if we’re going to paying another $15 an hour predictability pay, it’s going to be huge. “

Mann said that the city recently gave her store three days’ notice when doing construction outside their business. She had two full-time employees working that week, which proved to be unnecessary when the lunch hour was dead.

“There should be some protection for us for those last minute call-outs,” she said, whether that be city projects, employees getting sick, or employees having emergencies.

The ordinance as written would allow Mann to send a message to a group of employees to see if anyone would volunteer to pick up extra hours when they suddenly need them. If someone volunteers, she would not have to give the employee any "predictability pay’" equivalent to an extra hour of wages.

But if she needs to call an employee directly to assign those hours with less than 14 days’ notice, she would be subject to the predictability pay.

Her husband, Karam Mann, said they have already raised sandwich prices by nearly 50 cents and will have to continue to do that. When the nearest Subway competitor is 20 blocks away in the city of Shoreline, he said they will continue to lose business to another franchise selling the same product for less.

“I’m cutting business hours coming up October. I’ve never done that before in 11 years,” he said.

While the ordinance does not apply to small businesses, a franchise is considered a large business.

“The United States Supreme Court has already made a ruling. Franchises are not small businesses. The city does plenty of work to support our small businesses through our Office of Economic Development,” Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez said.

When asked whether there may be unintended consequences of this law, Herbold told KIRO 7 there would be a strong evaluation component of the law. Council documents show the city would spend $200,000 to commission a study by academic researchers on the effects of the ordinance after it goes into effect.

The Seattle Restaurant Association gave KIRO 7 this statement:

"Restaurateurs care deeply about their employees, and retaining good employees is a top priority.

The SRA has been working collaboratively with the city seeking the best scheduling policy outcomes for employees and restaurateurs that won't remove the flexibility employees enjoy.

We are pleased positive movement was made today through the amendment additions.

We appreciate Councilmembers Burgess, Herbold, Gonzalez and O'Brien recognized the importance of employers being able to talk directly with employees about the opportunity for additional hours.

There is work to be done on the scheduling draft policy and we will continue to work with the city and labor advocates as legislation moves through the process."