- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A D.C. Council committee on Thursday will consider a bill that would require chain stores and restaurants to give employees three weeks’ notice in changing their schedules, setting up a third battle in the District between business owners and workers.

The legislation joins two other D.C. bills — one offering at least 12 weeks of paid family leave, the other calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage — that follow examples set by West Coast jurisdictions and pit employers against employees. To date, only San Francisco has enacted a business scheduling law.

Supporters of the District’s Hours and Scheduling Stability Act say that reliable work schedules will make life easier for those juggling work and family obligations. Opponents say it will dampen the city’s business environment.

D.C. retailers with more than five locations nationwide and restaurants with more than 20 locations would have to set work schedules at least 21 days in advance under the legislation, which will be marked up by the Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee.

Bill watchers said the committee could raise the threshold for chain stores and restaurants to 40 national locations for both and decrease the number of days to 14 for businesses to set their schedules.

Under San Francisco’s scheduling law, retailers and eateries with 40 locations nationwide must give employees two weeks’ notice for schedule changes.

Ari Schwartz, an organizer with D.C. Jobs With Justice, said the local legislation will give employees stability in knowing when they have to work and in planning their other responsibilities.

“People have other things going on in their lives. A lot of workers [at chain stores] are in school or taking workforce training. For some it’s their second and third jobs,” Mr. Schwartz said. “If they don’t get their schedule in advance, how can they arrange child care and other obligations?”

He said scheduling stability will create a better work environment and attract the best workers to the District.

But Kamal Ali, co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, said flexible scheduling is imperative for unexpected fluctuations, and advance scheduling would prevent him from increasing staff quickly if business gets heavy. Mr. Ali owns nine Ben’s-related eateries in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and is a member of the D.C. Jobs and Growth Partnership, a group of local businesses concerned with job creation.

“Essentially, I’d be left unable to communicate additional staffing needs in the face of any number of variables, from a late-night playoff game to a crippling snowstorm,” Mr. Ali said in a statement. “I worry that this not only hampers my ability to do business but also scares away potential investment from other businesses looking to set up shop in the District alongside me.”

Nationally, some major retailers already have started advanced scheduling, unprompted by legislation. Bath & Body Works, The Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch all announced last year that they will stop using on-call scheduling, in which an employee must be available for work even if that employee isn’t needed. If the employee ends up not working that day, he or she doesn’t get paid.

“We recognize that flexibility, inclusive of consistent and reliable scheduling, is important to all of our employees,” Andi Owen, global president for Banana Republic, which is owned by The Gap, said in a 2015 statement. “Each of our brands has committed to improving their scheduling policies to provide their store employees with at least 10 to 14 days notice.”

Recently, the D.C. Council passed legislation that will raise the minimum wage — currently $10.50 per hour and scheduled to rise to $11.50 on July 1 — to $15 by 2020. The wage will be linked to inflation and rise automatically after that. The minimum wage for tipped workers — currently $2.77 an hour — will grow to $5 per hour by 2022, with automatic increases linked to inflation thereafter.

City lawmakers also are considering a paid family leave bill that would levy a 1 percent tax on employers to pay for up to 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees. Another version of the legislation with 12 weeks paid leave has been circulated council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

When the scheduling bill was introduced this year, the lobbying group National Retail Federation said the measure would hurt business and workers.

“Scheduling mandates are restrictive for all parties involved and have sweeping unintended consequences” NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French wrote in a January letter to the council.

“The local retail industry is competitive and fast-paced and revolves around a number of variables,” he wrote.

He said employees currently can switch shifts with another worker who needs extra hours, calls in sick or has to attend a family event. But employers won’t be able to accommodate those requests under the legislation.

Steven Jumper, spokesman for D.C. Jobs and Growth Partnership, added that employers won’t be able to react to a spike in business due to an event such as an unexpected playoff game or unseasonably warm winter weather.

“This is troubling because it will fundamentally change the way businesses have to operate. Retailers function off need for having flexibility,” Mr. Jumper said.

He said if the scheduling measure keeps large retailers from wanting to do business in the District, that it will ultimately hurt small businesses because they feed off the prosperity of big box retailers.

“One of the things we’ve been hearing from smaller businesses is that it will have a clear impact on their businesses as well,” Mr. Jumper said. “D.C.’s economic boom has been based off of anchor retailers helping to revitalize communities as a way for smaller businesses to see success.”

The legislation also could be bad for employees affected by Metro’s “SafeTrack” maintenance schedule, which is causing headaches for commuters — especially those who can’t telecommute.

“[Our] employees are feeling the pressure of increased and uncertain commute times. If the council goes forward with restrictive scheduling it will be a disaster that many businesses may not be able to recover from,” Mr. Ali said. “Bottom line, it limits our access to a reliable workforce, which is fundamental for any business owner, small, large or in between.”

Mr. Jumper spoke the direct impacts of the second phase of SafeTrack.

“Whether you ride the train, the bus, or drive, phase two will throw another wrench in your commute. The D.C. Council continues to exacerbate the problem by considering legislation that refuses to adapt to the challenges imposed by unpredictable travel times,” Mr. Jumper said.

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