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Work schedules should create consistency, not chaos

Congress runs on a schedule that’s meticulously planned. Our elected representatives work pre-set days in Washington and back home in their districts. Members of Congress can count on last votes happening at nearly the same time each week, so they’re able to shuttle between committee hearings, floor votes and fundraisers. They’re able to meet the many demands on their time because they have predictable work schedules.

But too many Americans employed in hourly positions—those who serve us our food and help us find what we’re looking for in department stores –are assigned schedules by their employer that offer more chaos than consistency. Their lives must be planned day to day because of erratic schedules at jobs that provide too few hours and pay too little. Unlike Congress, when hourly employees aren’t working, they aren’t being paid.

{mosads}Last-minute, unpredictable schedules are not just an inconvenience; they make it harder for Americans to pay the bills. Having hours that change from week-to-week and month-to-month make budgeting difficult, and it’s nearly impossible to find a second job to earn enough to make ends meet when you can’t confirm your availability. Continuing an education to gain new skills can also be tough if your schedule changes weekly. A supervisor at a McDonald’s in Washington, D.C. refused an employee’s request for a consistent schedule so she wouldn’t miss her classes, saying, “You can work or attend school. You can’t do both.”

Being there for our families should be a non-negotiable for everyone. But finding consistent time to help children with homework, coach their baseball games and take Mom to the doctor is out of reach for employees assigned inconsistent hours and on-call schedules. That’s because the lack of predictability makes it hard for employees to know their employer won’t be expecting them at work. 

Since the 1990s, corporate employers have been making it more difficult for workers to plan their lives. In an attempt to match consumer patterns, they’ve implemented so-called “just-in-time” scheduling practices—things like split shifts, shortened shifts and on-call shifts. In the meantime, they’ve created upheaval in the lives of their employees, making it more difficult for workers to plan their lives.

A recent survey of more than 400 hourly employees who work in retail, food service and other service industries across Washington, D.C. affirmed this trend. The study found that one-third of surveyed employees reported receiving their work schedules with less than three days’ notice. Half of those who work in the restaurant/food service industry reported being sent home before working their full shifts. The study also found that employers appear to retaliate against women and men who attempt to adjust their schedules to achieve a better work-life balance.

With these scheduling practices, employers shift business risks, but not the rewards, to the people who work for them. Employees are left blocking off time each week for the possibility, but not the guarantee of work.

There is a way to fix this problem. Recently, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Schedules That Work Act so that everyone has the right to request a predictable schedule. It also helps to protect those working in industries with the worst scheduling practices so they can access more stable hours to build a decent life.   

It’s not just employees and their families who stand to benefit from The Schedules that Work Act. Employers should expect more retention and stability from a workforce with dependable hours. Currently, the employee turnover resulting from just-in-time scheduling practices creates costs for employers who must repeatedly invest in hiring and training.

Predictable scheduling is not just good policy, it’s also good politics. A June New York Times/CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans favor requiring chain stores and fast-food outlets to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of any changes in their work schedules or provide them with extra pay. Such a policy enjoys the support of 62 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents. 

Unpredictable work schedules create unpredictable lives for the men and women who make our economy work, and for the families they go home to each day. Parents cannot plan to be there for their kids, strivers cannot get the education needed to expand their employment opportunities, and families may not consistently be able to pay the bills. Now is the time for Congress to act so all Americans can have a shot at reliable schedules – just like its own.

Wasser is the senior policy analyst at Jobs With Justice.

Tags Bobby Scott Chris Murphy Elizabeth Warren Patty Murray

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