Most days, Jeannette Randall wakes at 6:30 a.m., gets her three children up and ready for school and goes to work at a local Safeway. Depending on the shift, she often gets home past midnight, only to repeat the cycle again.
The work-life balance might be easier to maintain and plan around, except Randall sometimes finds out her schedule three days before she’s expected to show up for work, making it hard to make time for things like parent-teacher meetings or sleep.
“It’s a difficult decision to limit my availability and cut my hours so I can sleep,” she said.
Randall shared her story with a number of other workers and workers’ rights activists at the Workers’ Voice Summit at City Hall at the end of March. The event touched on a number of issues, but many workers like Randall spoke out about the precarious nature of their work and the difficulty of planning their lives around it.
The narrative is part of a larger conversation working its way through public process as city officials grapple with how to balance workers’ desires for predictable schedules with employers’ need for flexibility.
Representatives of Working Washington, the workers’ rights group spearheading the issue, butted heads with industry representatives at the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Commission hearing at the end of March as each group tried to convince councilmembers of the scope of the secure scheduling problem, and whether it could reasonably be solved with legislation.
To Working Washington, scheduling practices are the elephant in the room, impacting their members’ daily lives in profoundly negative ways.
To businesses, they were more like a housecat projecting a long shadow purporting to be a lion: A scary image dispelled by a look under the hood.
On April 1, Working Washington answered that challenge with a self-published study that the organization hopes shows the extent of the secure scheduling problem in the city. Field agents conducted 98 one-on-one interviews with people in coffee, food service and other industries as well as another 229 online responses.
Workers surveyed reported that their schedules fluctuated wildly in the numbers of hours worked — most by at least one full day of work a week and some by almost two — and the majority received their schedules a week or less in advance.
That variability caused significant stress, with 39 percent of respondents saying that their schedules had negatively impacted their health and 31 reporting that the variability and flexibility required made it difficult to get another job.
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Maud Daudon cautioned that policymakers should hold off on local legislation until they see the consequences of secure scheduling legislation in San Francisco, which took effect for large chains at the beginning of March.
“It is still early in the process for this legislation and our city should proceed thoughtfully,” Daudon wrote in an email.
Tackling this problem with a formal complaint and redress system is a critical follow-up to Seattle’s minimum wage law, said Ilana Greenberg, a Starbucks employee and ally of Working Washington.
The minimum-wage ordinance took effect on April 1, 2015 and promised to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15-an-hour by 2017 for large employers and 2019 for small employers.
“Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter how much you earn an hour if you can’t rely on your schedule,” Greenberg said. “If you’re trying to pay your bills and you’re only getting eight hours a week, and you’re the only income in your home, you can be earning $30 an hour and it doesn’t work out.”
Greenberg has worked for Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, off and on for the better part of a decade in various locations across the country. The company became the poster child for the secure scheduling issue after a New York Times story documenting the difficulties of working mom Jannette Navarro brought the issue to the national stage.
The last 18 months have seen significant changes in how stores schedule their employees, said Ashley Lowes, a spokesperson of the Starbucks Global Communications team.
The company committed to a “good faith estimate” of the number of hours employees will work, accepts scheduling requests and requires at least eight hours between shifts. It also created a contact center to answer scheduling questions.
Of the calls that go to the contact center, fewer than 3 percent are related to scheduling, Lowes said.
Despite corporate commitments, practices such as “clopening” — having the same employee close the store at night and open it the following morning — and short-notice schedules still exist in some stores, Greenberg said.
Starbucks is aware of the secure scheduling legislation in its hometown, and has weighed in.
“We’re working to ensure councilmembers understand that we have every incentive to get scheduling right for our partners (employees) and that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t get us there,” Lowes wrote in an e-mail.
The Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts committee will meet on April 12 to discuss the appropriate amount of advance notice workers should get on the schedules and how to address the insecurity caused by wide variation in weekly hours scheduled.