Seattle Passes Tough Scheduling Regulations

Report: Similar rules have hurt workers in San Francisco

Activists rally for scheduling rules before a Seattle City Council meeting / AP
September 20, 2016

Seattle became the second city to adopt regulations that force businesses to give advanced scheduling notices to shift workers.

The Democratically controlled city council unanimously passed the Secure Scheduling Act on Monday, which will require employers to give workers two weeks’ notice about their upcoming shifts, compensate them for lost or additional shifts, and bar them from taking two shifts within 10 hours.

The legislation is expected to have major ramifications for the retail and restaurant industries, which employ many part-time and shift workers. Democratic Mayor Ed Murray hailed the vote as a boon for workers and a blow against "income inequality."

"Secure scheduling helps working families, young people, students, and workers of color by providing stability and clarity to their work schedule," he said in a statement following the vote.

The vote comes two years after San Francisco became the first city to adopt scheduling regulations supported by labor unions.

That legislation has had several unintended adverse consequences for the workers it is meant to help, according to an analysis of the law by economists from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Kentucky. Businesses became more rigid in their handling of schedules in the wake of the scheduling regulations.

"To respond to these new requirements formula retailers are now less flexible with employees schedule changes (35 percent), offering fewer part-time positions (21 percent), scheduling fewer employees per shift (19 percent) and offering fewer jobs across the board (17 percent). As a group, retail clothing businesses are even more likely to be taking these steps," the study said.

This is not the first time Seattle has followed San Francisco’s example in labor reforms. The two cities pioneered the $15 minimum wage that has been promoted by a national pressure campaign.

Michael Saltsman, research director of the Employment Policies Institute, said he expects Seattle to see adverse changes in its job market and business practices as companies adapt to the wage increases and scheduling rules.

"These aren't cost-free policy experiments—and employees often end up paying the tab," Saltsman said. "Instead of helping employees, the evidence from San Francisco suggests that such a law will reduce workplace scheduling flexibility, and also diminish the number of part-time positions."

Some Seattle businesses say that the scheduling laws could put them out of business. Naveen Kumar told the Seattle Times that he will close several of his five Subway franchise operations due to the wage hikes and scheduling regulations. Jeremy Adler, spokesman for the pro-business group AR Squared, said that the city council’s vote represented another victory for unions, which pushed the bill in both cities.

"It's just a big labor power grab that will be an unnecessary weight on job creators and take away flexibility that these workers depend on," Adler said.

Matthew Haller, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association, said that Seattle industries that rely on shift work are already suffering. He pointed to an American Enterprise Institute study that found Seattle has lost jobs in the food industry even as hiring in that industry has increased in the rest of the state. Haller said that the "new law will only exacerbate these declines."

"Another day, another giveaway by Mayor Murray to his union special interests that picks winners and losers," Haller said. "Under this new law, employers would lose the flexibility they need to quickly respond to customer needs and workers lose important work opportunities."

Not every city has backed scheduling regulations. Washington, D.C.’s city council, which passed a $15 minimum wage in July, tabled a similar scheduling bill by a 9-4 vote on Tuesday, according to Politico.

The Seattle bill will be implemented in July 2017.

Published under: Big Labor