The one-time pop-punk band Good Charlotte had a line in one of their old songs that attempted to strike a blow at their parents’ generation. It said, “I don’t want your boring life, and I don’t want your nine-to-five.” Now that those guys are bonafide bazillionaires, who could blame them for still holding that attitude? But for millions and millions of normal, salt of the Earth-type folks? A “nine-to-five,” or any semblance of a predictable work schedule, would be a godsend.
For millions, particularly working in food and customer service industries, scheduling is a nightmare. You need to pick up shifts here and there, and when you can. Employers have a hard time balancing schedules and days off, and sometimes you don’t even know you’re working the next day until eight hours before. It makes life difficult, especially if you’re trying to schedule childcare or planning to go to school.
Lawmakers in some cities are taking matters into their own hands. Just recently, the Seattle City Council passed a new worker scheduling law — often called secure scheduling — to make sure employees know well in advance when and where they need to work.
A predictable work schedule is something many in the professional class take for granted. Without knowing when you’ll need to be at work, it’s hard, if not impossible, to sign yourself up for college classes, or even make a doctor’s appointment. This new law is meant to address that.
Secure scheduling laws
What exactly is a “secure scheduling” law? While there has already been a similar ordinance passed in San Francisco, the idea is still foreign to most people across the country. It’s meant to address issues like income inequality and struggles that certain minority groups in the working class have been struggling with for many years.
In the words of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, via The Seattle Times, “Seattle once again is taking concrete steps to address income inequality.” He continued, “Secure scheduling helps working families, young people, students, and workers of color by providing stability and clarity to their work schedule.”
From the text of the ordinance, Seattle’s workers now have “The right to a good faith estimate of work schedules; the right to request input into the work schedule; the right to advance notice of work schedules; the right to rest between work shifts; the right to notice of work schedule changes; the right to compensation for work schedule changes; the right to access additional hours of work.”
Basically, the law intends to get schedules in the hands of workers sooner, allow for a certain amount of time to pass between shifts (10 hours), and perhaps most contentiously, pay for having your schedule changed.
For anyone who has had a job where a shift ended late at night and then had to be back early the next morning, this ordinance may sound great. For someone who has to actually do the scheduling? It can sound like a nightmare. And the new ordinance has been met with some fury from the business community, and others.
Is it a good idea?
This is the million-dollar question: Is this ordinance a good idea? Unfortunately, there’s really no way to know. There are some real, genuine concerns from employers that this won’t work. Even Starbucks and Costco — two Seattle-area based companies, both of which have ushered in many changes to improve life for their workforces — have called the plan unworkable.
And there are loopholes in the law, too. Union employees are exempt, for example.
As for workers? It will place some restrictions on what certain people can do. The law is well-intentioned, but could backfire. Suppose you’re in a situation in which you don’t mind working the late shift, and being back early in the morning? This law forbids you from doing it.
On the flip side, it’s another victory for labor and workers’ rights groups. Remember that Seattle and San Francisco — both taking point on the secure scheduling laws — were also the first to pass the $15 minimum wage rules, which were also met with skepticism. So far, however, things have worked out pretty well, though it’s still far too early to call those minimum wage experiments a success or failure.
Don’t be surprised to see secure scheduling laws spread to other cities. New York City’s mayor said he has legislation on his radar. Many others could follow. We’ll have to wait and see if the law works as intended, or if it ends up being more of a bust than a boon for the working class.