New York City’s original Fight for 15 is becoming a fight for full time. After helping turn $15 an hour into the new normal by setting in motion a phased state minimum-wage hike to $15 by 2021, the fast food workers’ movement is taking on the second shift of its campaign to promote fair, decent work: a consistent, predictable schedule.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and City Council members have announced legislation designed to set standards for predictable scheduling at large fast-food outlets. The soon-to-be-introduced bill would, according to the mayor’s office, “Require fast food employers to schedule a majority of expected shifts and publicly post a workplace schedule two weeks in advance.” The bill would affect an estimated 65,000 fast food workers across the city. But notably it leaves out the massive retail and full-service restaurant sectors, which also employ huge swaths of the service workforce, particularly young people of color.
According to one nationwide study of early-career workers aged 26 to 32, “Half of retail workers report that they know their work schedule one week or less in advance, and half of janitors and housekeepers report that their employer completely controls the timing of their work.” Roughly 17 percent of workers operate on “volatile” schedules—often this practice is masked as “flexibility,” akin to the “flex time” of salaried professionals. But while some workers prefer ad hoc schedules, for many low-wage hourly service employees, irregular shifts typically mean bosses can change workers’ schedules erratically from day to day. (Most workers, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis, say their bosses partially or wholly control their schedules.)
Erratic, “contingent” schedules can do as much damage to a worker’s quality of life as inadequate wages. About 70 percent of working mothers, and 80 percent of fathers, reported that in recent weeks their schedules had fluctuated on average 40 percent from their usual hours. The lack of standard work hours can profoundly disrupt family well-being, especially for low-income single parents who balance childcare and other household duties against constantly shifting schedules.