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The long road: What led up to San Francisco’s new predictability law

The dust is settling on San Francisco’s new predictable scheduling law, and I’ve been reflecting on what it will mean for workers in this city as well as the work we put into it over the past several months. In case you missed it, San Francisco distinguished itself as a leader again, by passing the first legislation in the country that addresses last minute employment scheduling by large, chain retailers.

Over Thanksgiving dinner and at various social events, I’ve been talking about this issue. I usually have to spend a few sentences before people understand what I’m talking about. But it’s this: people who work at hourly jobs often have very little advance notice of their work schedules, which creates a lot of instability. With a little background, it’s easy to understand how big a problem this is for parents like Sandra Herrera. Sandra is a Safeway worker who has four children. She struggles to make time for their doctor’s appointments and school work because her work schedule is unpredictable, and fluctuates wildly from week to week. She is often scheduled to work the late shift and the very early shift back to back.

For me, this issue hits me as a parent first, and someone who researches early childhood education policy second. Research makes plain that babies and toddlers need time with their families -- their brains and futures depend on it. If parents cannot plan ahead because their work schedules prevent it, then establishing dinnertime routines and finding time for bedtime stories become a luxury. They are robbed from the ability to make promises about outings, play time, trips to the park. Parents with low paying jobs need reliable time with their children every bit as much as I do.

That is why Next Generation, along with the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center and other members of the California Work & Family Coalition, provided technical and communications assistance to the “Predictable Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees” ordinance, authored by Supervisor David Chiu. This ordinance requires chain stores to give their employees two weeks notice of their work schedules. If they make last minute changes, they must compensate workers unless the schedule changes were outside of their control. The bill was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as part of a package of legislation called the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, at the end of November. It goes into effect in July 2015.

The California Work & Family Coalition has been actively working on this issue for over a year, when it first helped Supervisor Chiu to convene a taskforce of employers and worker advocates. The taskforce met four times between February and June, 2014. Dr. Susan Lambert, a leading scholar who has studied low-wage workers’ work schedules extensively, spoke to the taskforce and described the findings of her research. Representatives from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association attended the meetings. Several individual large retailers were invited to every one of these meetings, but declined to come. Costco, Bi Rite and Zazie did attend the meetings and provided invaluable feedback about their scheduling needs, and how they balance those needs with the real-world lives of their employees.

In the months leading up to the votes, Supervisor Chiu met with us and with business groups many times to find middle ground that employers could implement and that would create meaningful change for workers. He met with several other advocates on the bill, as well, specifically the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), who provided important insights from labor’s perspective. The City’s Chief Economist reviewed the legislation, and decided not to issue a full economic impact report about the bill because he found that it would not “have a material economic impact on the city.” The city is required to evaluate the effects of the new law both on employers and employees and report on its findings.  

We were there when the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed this bill, and we cheered. It was a thrilling end to a long and careful process that highlighted how hard families are working to get their bills paid, and how heartbroken they are to not be more available to their kids when they need them. I was proud to be a part of something that will so tangibly help these families in San Francisco. And I am proud of the thoughtful process that led up to it.

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