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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Seattle officials propose sweeping law to protect workers from erratic schedules

By Janet I. Tu Seattle Times

Under a sweeping new scheduling law being considered by the city of Seattle, large retailers and many food-service companies with more than 500 employees would be required to give their workers in Seattle 14 days’ advance notice of their schedules and to offer additional hours to existing employees before hiring new workers.

The law – intended to help retail and food-service workers who say they suffer from erratic and unpredictable work schedules – would be among the first of its kind in the country, following in the footsteps of San Francisco.

A Seattle City Council committee released the main points of the proposed law Monday. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement that the measure aims at “providing workers with access to a reliable schedule that meets their life and financial needs, while balancing the daily realities facing large employers.”

In an apparent reference to the city’s adopting a $15 minimum-wage law ahead of other major metros, Murray added, “Seattle will once again lead the conversation on how to respond to inequality by proposing new, innovative policy solutions that help workers and employers create healthier and more equitable workplaces.”

The so-called “secure scheduling” proposal stands a good chance of passing. Many of the same council members who passed the minimum-wage law are still on the council, and two of the new members, Lisa Herbold and M. Lorena Gonzalez, are spearheading the scheduling law effort, along with the Mayor’s Office.

Business groups, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, have been cautioning that scheduling is complex and that a one-size-fits-all approach would create more problems for employees. The Washington Retail Association recently urged the mayor and council to slow down the effort. A group of workers for full-service restaurants has also objected to the idea, fearing that it would take away from the scheduling flexibility they currently enjoy.

A former Starbucks president ranted against the “secure scheduling” law idea in an email and ad earlier this year, but the company itself had no immediate comment on the proposal released Monday.

Herbold, who chaired the council committee overseeing secure scheduling, said in a statement that the committee has “gone to great lengths” to consult experts and to meet with business owners as well as workers.

The law, as currently proposed, would apply to retailers and fast-food, coffee and drinking establishments with 500 or more employees worldwide, and to full-service restaurants with 500 or more employees and more than 40 establishments worldwide.

Employers including Starbucks, Safeway, QFC, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Costco, REI, Red Robin, IHOP, McDonald’s, Subway, Denny’s and Ivar’s seafood bars (though not its sit-down restaurants) are examples of companies that would be covered, according to city staffers.

It would apply to hourly, nonexempt employees who work at least half of their hours within Seattle city limits.

The proposed law requires that:

– Employers give workers 14 days’ advance notice of schedules.

– Workers get a minimum 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 they 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 an employee, give a good- faith estimate of the median number of hours an employee is expected to work each week and whether they’ll be expected to work on-call shifts.

That estimate must be updated annually and when there’s a significant change in the company’s business model.

The law has been in the works for months now by a City Council committee and the Mayor’s Office, with the goal of getting legislation to the full council by mid-September.

If passed, the law could go into effect in July, though that time frame is not firm.

There would be fines for violations. Enforcement would fall on the city’s Office of Labor Standards, which currently has four investigators. Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed 2017 budget would likely boost the number of investigators.

Workers’ groups including the union-backed Working Washington have been pushing for such a law, saying it’s needed to “ensure tens of thousands of Seattle workers have the balance, flexibility, and power it takes to care for your family, contribute to your community, and build a better future,” Sejal Parikh, executive director of Working Washington, said in a statement Monday.

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