Economy

City Passes Historic Retail Workers Bill Of Rights

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On Tuesday evening, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, the country’s first-ever legislation aimed at improving life for retail employees.

The new rules will require retail chains that have 11 or more locations across the country and employ 20 or more people in San Francisco to provide advance notice of schedules, improve the treatment of part-time employees, and give current workers the opportunity to take on more hours before hiring new people. Employers will have to give their workers at least two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules, and if they fail to do so they will have to give those workers additional “predictability pay.” Workers also get paid if they’re required to be on call but their shifts are canceled. Employers will have to give part-time employees the same starting wage as those working full time in the same position and access to the same benefits.

The bill’s passage comes at a time when erratic schedules are increasingly wrecking havoc on people’s lives, particularly in retail. Nearly half of part-time workers and just under 40 percent of full-time ones only find out their schedules a week or less in advance. In a survey of more than 200 retail employees in New York City, nearly 40 percent said they don’t get a set minimum of hours they’ll work each week and a quarter are required to be on call for shifts, often finding out just hours ahead of time that they’ll have to go to work. Many say schedules are posted on Saturdays for workweeks that start on Sunday.

Workers also show up just to be told to go home thanks to computer software that uses algorithms to determine if there are too many employees compared to sales volume — McDonald’s employees have sued the company over its use of exactly this technology.

At the same time, workers often struggle to get enough hours to survive. There are 7 million people in the country working part time who want to be full-time, an increase from 4.5 million in 2008. Employees in retail note that getting more hours or full-time status is treated like a reward, and docking hours is used as a punishment. Employers also keep workers just under what would qualify as full-time hours to avoid having to give them benefits.

Bills similar to its Retail Workers Bill of Rights are being pushed in Milwaukee, New York, and Santa Clara, California. Federal lawmakers have taken notice as well. In July, Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Schedules that Work Act. It would require all the country’s employers to give at least two weeks’ notice on schedules, give employees an hour’s pay for each shift changed within 24 hours, and pay them some wages if they get sent home before the end of their shifts or call in but aren’t given one. Workers would also have the right to request their own schedules.