- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2016

After a gung-ho push for pro-labor legislation this spring, the D.C. Council has slowed its rollout considerably this fall.

Lawmakers quickly passed a $15-an-hour minimum wage bill but are taking more time on paid family leave legislation, and a work scheduling bill died on the dais in September.

Some council members have taken a step back amid pressure from businesses that regard the trio of measures as suffocating and invasive.

But council member Elissa Silverman, an at-large independent who has been the most vocal champion of the legislation, already is looking to the session beginning in January to strike a compromise that would give workers predictable schedules without driving out businesses.

Ms. Silverman on Thursday led a roundtable discussion on the issue with speakers from labor groups, academia and the business community.

Proponents of “fair scheduling” say low-income workers, especially in the service industry, face unstable lives because they are often at the will of their employers’ schedules. Workers have difficulty planning for child care or other events when they don’t know what their shifts will be from week to week.

“I think that we can agree that it’s not fair for people to not be able to plan their lives,” said interim council member Robert White, at-large Democrat. “We also have to be understanding of the fact that many businesses operate on thin margins.”

Council member Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat, sounded even more cautious, saying all bills that affect businesses collectively must be considered.

“We need everyone at the table to help us make informed decisions,” said Mr. Todd. “We don’t want to encumber small business from expanding. We cannot look at fair scheduling in isolation. Must look at totality of all legislation.”

He echoed calls from the D.C. Chamber of Commerce for legislators to gauge the combined burden of the measures.

Chamber of Commerce President Vincent Orange, a former council member, did not return an email for comment.

A spokesperson for the chamber noted testimony to the council that said the scheduling bill “proposes to mandate a one-size-fits-all approach and micromanages operations that are typically decided between the employer and employee.”

Interestingly, that testimony was addressed to Mr. Orange when he was head of the council’s Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee this year.

Big-box retailers, including Target and Best Buy, railed against the measures, and grocery chain Wegmans said the legislation would keep it from opening a store in the city.

Even though the scheduling legislation would affect only large businesses, Mark Lee, who heads the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association, said small businesses are still worried.

“Once you establish this mandate, it’s going to be natural for you to say that we have to extend this to all employers in the District,” Mr. Lee said. “That’s where the harm really begins to happen.”

He also noted how the pro-labor bills have had a compounding effect. He referred to Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing a 2.7 percent drop in employment by the food and beverage industry in the District. That sector accounts for nearly 20 percent of the city’s tax revenue.

Mr. Lee said the employment rate has declined because businesses have begun to budget for the minimum wage increase by cutting jobs.

“The council itself is creating the conditions that prohibit us from offering more predictable schedules. Once you cut staff, you have to have more flexible staff,” he said.

Mr. Todd said the District is in a unique position because it is fighting for businesses with nearby jurisdictions, unlike those in Seattle and San Francisco, which both have scheduling laws.

“Unlike California, we have to do everything we can to remain competitive as possible and not put ourselves at a disadvantage,” he said. “We must find novel ways to safeguard against bad actors without stifling the good ones.”

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