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The Need for Predictable and Stable Schedules

A mom from my kids’ school quit her new job driving a paratransit bus after only one month. I was surprised since she had been so happy to be back at work after a long stint of unemployment, and the job paid pretty well. But she has two children and the paratransit company would wait until the last minute to make her weekly schedule available – often not until Sunday night for the coming week. It proved expensive and practically impossible to arrange last minute child care and school pick up each week. She got a job in a sandwich shop with lower pay but predictable hours instead.

Her story is not unusual. Along with the rise in low-wage work, business practices have changed, and unpredictable, unstable schedules are on the rise for hourly low-wage workers across the country.

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to participate on a task force focused on the issue of predictable scheduling in San Francisco. The task force is comprised of local business, labor, and work family representatives. Convened by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, the goal of the task force is to study the growing problem of unpredictable and unstable schedules in the low-wage hourly workforce, and identify solutions together that could result in city-wide legislation.  

When I joined the task force, I saw predictable scheduling as an issue of work life balance. How can you plan for child care, take a class, or keep a second job if you don’t know your schedule from week to week? But predictable scheduling is an issue of economic security for low-wage workers. Unstable hours lead to unstable income, making it impossible to plan rent, let alone child care and family time.

The increase in unpredictable schedules goes hand in hand with the increase in involuntary part-time work. Workers with unstable schedules often don’t end up with enough paid hours to make a living wage. At our first task force meeting, we heard from predictable scheduling expert Dr. Susan Lambert that almost three-quarters of all workers – and 83 percent of hourly part-time workers – report unstable work hours. Moreover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, involuntary part-time employment has doubled since 2006. For low-wage workers already struggling to get by on minimum wage, the bottom line of economic security is minimum hours worked. Thirty-five percent of American workers would like or need more hours.

At our task force meetings, we heard from restaurant and retail workers about the way unpredictable schedules impact their ability to plan, take a class or be sure they will make enough money. We also heard from businesses who are working hard with their employees to find ways to schedule stable work shifts.  Members of the California Work and Family Coalition and like-minded partners proposed a number of solutions based on the evidence we heard. The task force has been a great first step for the city to think through these complex issues. We are lucky to be connected to local grassroots organizations and national policy organizations that want to collaborate and make a difference on this issue. I’m excited about the ideas that have come out of the task force so far. I can’t wait to see what comes next from San Francisco.

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