San Francisco is an up and coming metropolis—if you’re an angel investor or Silicon Valley mogul, that is. But for many long-time denizens, it’s all downhill: low wages make it a struggle to get by even with full-time work, and the rent is astronomical. Yet in this wildly polarized city, a coalition of labor and community activists has managed to push through landmark legislation to protect low-wage workers, including a paid sick days ordinance, a newly minted $15 minimum wage and, most recently, a landmark Retail Workers Bill of Rights (RWBoR), adding momentum to a nationwide push to strengthen workplace rights in retail.
The RWBoR, passed last week by the Board of Supervisors and now set to be fully adopted, lays out a basic code of rights for people working in supermarket, retail boutiques and other chain stores, covering all retailers in San Francisco with at least twenty branches nationwide, and which also employ twenty or more. Under the two pieces of legislation that constitute the Bill of Rights, employers must establish a baseline schedule of shifts and workdays before the worker starts the job. Workers are entitled to a biweekly schedule with two-weeks advance notice of any changes. Bosses will be penalized for making any changes to the schedule within a week of the scheduled shift. If workers take the shift, they receive “one hour of pay for each shift change made with less than seven days’ notice,” and two to four hours’ pay if the change comes a day in advance.
The penalties act as a check to ensure that employers actually adhere to the schedules that they post.
“It’s fine and great to get your schedule fourteen days in advance,” says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “But if your employer can then change it up until the date of your shift and have no consequence for doing so, then it’s almost meaningless.” So when employers want to, say, add extra work by staying open after normal hours or filling extra orders, instead of forcing shift changes onto employees, they’ll now bear an extra cost for inconveniencing a worker.
The RWBoR adds protections for on-call workers, whose schedules are contingent by definition, entitling them to two to four hours pay if they’re “required to be ‘on-call’ for a specified shift but the employer cancels the shift” with less than a day’s notice.
Other provisions aim to protect part-time workers: mandating that employer can only hire new part-time workers after first offering more hours to existing part-timers. And part-timers will be entitled to equal access to certain full-timer benefits, like paid time off.
Such measures stirred grumbling from the business community about excessive regulation. But the final legislation included these measures as a crucial deterrent for bosses against exploiting part-timers as “disposable” labor without investing in workers’ long-term livelihoods.