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When Minimum Wage Doesn’t Cut It: The Need for Stable Work Schedules

The California Work & Family Coalition fact sheet, “Predictable Scheduling: The Bottom Line of Economic Security,” can be downloaded here.

The most stable period of my childhood was when my mother worked a steady, full-time job in a manufacturing factory, making minimum wage. For over a year, her hours were consistent, so she had a stable flow of income. It was by no means enough for a single mother – we paid the bills but had no savings – but at least it was stable and kept us afloat.

That was the first and last time she has ever held that type of job in America. When the company scaled back, my mother was let go and, for the next several years, she transitioned from job to job several times a year, often juggling two at once. Sometimes, she worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant a few times a week, and in a nail salon the rest of the time. Working more hours on the weekends wasn’t an option; it was a necessity to afford rent. She worked when she could, as often as she could.

For working parents in this situation, one of two things inevitably happens: you lose your child care or your job. Most of the time, the latter happened. Worst of all, we could never predict what next month’s income would be compared to last month’s, so we kept our fingers crossed that our ancient, rusty Toyota would not break down again.

As a child, I was also profoundly affected by my mother’s unstable work. During this time, I saw my mother very little but, when I did, our interactions carried the weight of the chronic stress that permeated our lives. I felt helpless and anxious by her work and our family’s circumstances that were beyond our control. I also quietly knew I was the reason why my mother lost her jobs.

All around us were many low-wage workers – mostly immigrants and parents – in the same struggle. They needed full-time work that would provide consistent hours and a stable income, but were all stuck doing the same type of low-skilled labor that offered no benefits or security. A waitress worked several part-time shifts at different restaurants, all of which were coincidentally on the same street. A father drove a truck and stocked Starbucks stores, sometimes until the sun rose, though his family was always hopeful that he’d make it home by midnight.

We were part of a trend that was starting to grow in those years, in which part-time work increased dramatically and precarious schedules were increasingly common. Today, the majority of hourly and part-time workers report unstable hours. Often times, these workers have little input into their work schedules and may receive their schedules less than a week in advance.

Precarious schedules threaten workers’ economic security and create challenges that disproportionately hurt working parents. More and more workers are employed part-time because their employers reduced their hours or because they could not find full-time work. Since 2006, involuntary part-time employment has nearly tripled in California to a staggering 1.1 million workers.

Nationally, this issue is gaining momentum with the recent introduction of the Schedules That Work Act promoting fair and predictable schedules. At the local level, San Francisco is also leading the nation on this front:

  • The city passed the historic Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance in 2013 that provides workers the “right to request” flexible or predictable work arrangements;
  • To move this issue forward, Supervisor David Chiu convened a task force of businesses and worker advocates to address unpredictable and unstable scheduling practices in San Francisco.
  • A coalition led by Jobs with Justice San Francisco is working with Supervisors Eric Mar and David Chiu to introduce the San Francisco Retail Workers Bill of Rights Ordinance, which will include provisions to improve the schedule predictability for workers of “chain” establishments.

In addition to these efforts, the city has proposed a minimum wage increase (to $15 an hour by 2018) on the November ballot. As my family’s personal experience taught me, minimum wage alone is not enough, but alongside stable scheduling practices it offers a foothold to a better life. Predictable scheduling is more than a basic standard; it’s the bottom line of economic security.

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