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Will Seattle Secure Scheduling Work for Local Retailers and Restaurants?

August 5, 2016 • 5 mins read

Ahmad El-Najjar

Policy and Communications

This post has been updated to include new information on August 9th, 2016.

Earlier this year, advocacy groups and the City Council began discussing the possibility of a Seattle secure scheduling ordinance, which would ensure retailers and restaurants consistently provide advanced scheduling for their employees. Secure scheduling ordinances went into effect in March in San Francisco. Is secure scheduling the next workers’ rights issue on the labor and employment law horizon?

Leading the discussion in Seattle are worker advocacy group Working Washington and two City Councilmembers, Lisa Herbold (representing District 1, which includes West Seattle and South Park) and Lorena González (representing Position 9, which is a Citywide seat).

What is secure scheduling?

The idea behind secure scheduling is to protect workers from unpredictable schedules and income and eliminate circumstances like “clopening” shifts—closing at night and then opening the next morning. No Seattle secure scheduling ordinance has yet been drafted and introduced as formal legislation, but discussions are based on San Francisco’s recent legislation on the issue. The Formula Retail Employee Rights Ordinances (FREROs) went into effect in San Francisco March 1, 2016, and a Capitol Hill Seattle Blog piece outlined its most salient items

  • Initial Estimate of Work Schedule Employers are required to provide new employees with a good faith written estimate of the employee’s expected minimum number of scheduled shifts per month and the days and hours of those shifts.
  • Two Week’s Notice of Work Schedules Employers must provide employees with their schedules two weeks in advance.
  • Predictability Pay for Schedule Changes If changes are made to an employee’s schedule with less than seven days’ notice, the employer must pay the employee a premium of one to four hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate, depending on the amount of notice and length of the shift.
  • Pay for on Call Shifts If an employee is required to be “on-call,” but is not called in to work, the employer must pay the employee a premium of two to four hours of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate, depending on the amount of notice and the length of the shift.

On August 8, the committee working on the draft of a secure scheduling ordinance released their recommendations. The findings are very much in line with the San Francisco legislation, and the following recommendations are being made:

  • Employers give workers 14 days advance notice of schedules.
  • Workers get a minimum of 10 hours between shifts—unless they consent to having less rest between shifts. In that case, they would be paid time and a half for the hours that make the shifts separated by less than 10 hours.
  • Employers pay workers one hour of “predictability pay” for changes to the schedule after it’s been posted.
  • There are exceptions for employee-initiated shift swaps or shift coverage, or if an employer fills an unexpectedly open shift by using “mass communications” such as text or email to ask workers if they can fill the shift.
  • Workers who don’t get all the hours for which they’ve been scheduled get paid half of their hourly wage for each hour cut.
  • Workers be paid half their hourly wage for each hour they’re scheduled to work on-call but are not called in.
  • Employers offer additional hours to existing employees, posting the notice for at least three days and giving workers two days to accept an offer, before employers can hire new workers. “External hiring can begin earlier if the employer receives confirmation that all qualified internal candidates decline additional hours,” according to the city’s presentation. Exceptions include seasonal hiring and participation in diversity and young-adult hiring programs.
  • Unionized workers may, through collective bargaining, negotiate a different alternative for secure scheduling.
  • Employers, upon hiring employees, give a good-faith estimate of the median number of hours employees are expected to work each week and whether or not they’ll be expected to work on-call shifts.

A key difference, though, is that the San Francisco ordinance applies only to Formula Retail Establishments, stores with at least 40 formula retail establishments (chain stores) worldwide and a minimum of 20 employees. While the spirit remains the same in the Seattle legislation the difference here is that the proposed ordinance would apply to retailers and restaurants with 500 or more employees, as well as full-service restaurants with 500 or more employees and 40 locations worldwide.

There is still concern from the small business community around what the final ordinance will actually be given statements from Kshama Sawant, the District 3 council member, who has argued that while “it’s true that the issue is experienced more by workers in the service industry and retail industry, like Starbucks, the best way to ensure secure scheduling for all workers is to ensure a citywide policy for all businesses across Seattle.”

Seattle secure scheduling challenges for small business

Seattle City Council first raised the possibility of secure scheduling in February of 2016, and the City commissioned a report to inform the discussion before introducing legislation. The report, released July 15, offered some key survey findings and summed up their findings thus:

While researchers acknowledged the varying responses to the survey, they noted there is still plenty of room for regulation: “Many [employees] have difficulty securing enough work to get by. In order to get by, they endure or volunteer for scheduling that leaves them exhausted or requires them to set other priorities aside.”

Unpredictability in any situation can be stressful, and this is especially the case when it comes to income. Small business owners in Seattle affirm that unpredictability is indeed a challenge for employees, but it’s also challenge for the small business owners themselves, given the variability of demand.

seattle secure scheduling
courtesy of the Seattle Restaurant Alliance

President of the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and Townsquared member, Rich Fox, explained, I can’t begin to list the number of variances that occur in a given day in the restaurant business, from weather-related changes, to party bookings or cancellations, to slower or busier shifts than expected, [all of which can] cause some scheduling variations on a daily basis—[in addition to] how difficult and inefficient [a secure scheduling ordinance] would make managing our demand-based business.”

Another concern, raised by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, is that studies commissioned from both side of the issue found that the majority of workers are happy with their schedules and scheduling policies. Rich Fox contended, “All of this work is being done, mind you, despite the fact that both the Washington Restaurant Association and the Seattle City government published studies showing that the vast majority of workers are happy with their schedules, the flexibility, and if changes were to occur, that [workers would prefer] they come from within the industry.”

When would Seattle secure scheduling go into effect?

The most recent stakeholder meeting sponsored by City Council members Herbold and González took place on August 2, 2016, and expectations are that the legislation will be formally introduced to the Seattle City Council. Two more stakeholder meetings are scheduled (though not open to the public) before a formal Public Hearing (open to the public) on a draft of the proposed ordinance taking place at 6 p.m. on August 16th, at Seattle’s City Hall. 

If the draft of secured scheduling ordinance is approved, it could very quickly be introduced in the Seattle City Council for a vote and, if passed, go into law as soon as July of 2018 (though this date is not yet firm).

Small business owners interested in voicing there concerns on this legislation are encouraged to take the opportunity to speak publicly the August 16th Public Hearing. In the meantime, concerned local restaurant and retail small business owners continue to keep each other informed on Townsquared.

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