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Predictable scheduling movement gaining momentum

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Truly helpful software has taken most of the guesswork out of restaurant staff scheduling. But politicians and workers’ right advocates hope to put it right back in this fall by passing “predictable scheduling” legislation. One version has already become law in San Francisco, and Seattle City Council members hope to implement something similar soon — even though surveys show a majority of the town’s restaurant workers don’t have a problem with scheduling methods their employers currently use.

Legal website Law360.com labels the predictable scheduling movement “a brewing storm” that could soon impact employers in many jurisdictions.

“It has gained substantial traction nationwide and is potentially poised to become the next big legislative trend in the employment sector. In the past year alone, nine states — Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Indiana and Michigan — and the U.S. House and Senate have each introduced some form of predictable scheduling legislation,” the site says

Sharp-eared operators may also have noticed that a call for “fair scheduling” sometimes pops up in presidential campaign rhetoric on the Democratic side. But no city or state is moving as rapidly on this issue as Seattle. Mayor Ed Murray is pushing predictable scheduling hard. So are several of the same City Council members who were instrumental in passing Seattle’s controversial $15 an hour wage initiative last year. 

According to the Seattle Times, this is what worker advocates in Seattle want included in any new scheduling law:
• Two weeks’ advance notice of schedules.
• A minimum of 11 hours’ rest between shifts, except when workers voluntarily choose to work with less rest.
• An hour of additional “predictability pay” when an employer changes a worker’s posted schedule.
• Up to four hours’ pay for workers who are assigned shifts that are either canceled, or reduced to less than four hours, with less than 24 hours notice.
• Offers of additional hours must go to existing part-time employees before new employees can be hired.

To avoid the appearance of a rush to judgment, the City of Seattle hired Vigdor Measurement to analyze this issue on its behalf prior to tackling the legislation. The result was a 119-page report titled “Scheduling in Seattle: Current State of Practice and Prospects for Intervention.”

Some of the key findings confirm that scheduling issues can have negative impacts on certain employees. “Thirty percent of employee respondents indicated that their work schedule created serious problems with their family, their budget, or other life priorities. Still more reported moderate hardship,” the report noted.

Yet other findings indicate that predictable scheduling might be a solution in search of a problem. Among the study’s conclusions:
• “The majority of employee survey respondents are satisfied with their hours and receive at least a week’s advance notice. Some business owners report stiff competition for experienced, productive workers and hope to distinguish themselves by offering employee-centered scheduling as part of a generous employment package.”
• “It should go without saying that actions taken to reduce the cost of living in the Seattle metropolitan area would ease many scheduling-related burdens more effectively than any direct regulation of worker scheduling.”
• “For shift workers in an economic position to make ends meet, predictability in scheduling is a sensible secondary goal. The first goal...is to ensure that workers’ average hours are sufficient to enable survival. Only if the average is high enough is it important to consider ironing out fluctuations around that average.”

Case closed, no? Well, no. The proposed legislation is on the fast track, even though a separate survey, sponsored by the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, also found that a strong majority of restaurant workers already having the scheduling transparency and number of hours they want. 

SRA hired Seattle firm Enviroissues to quiz 700 workers about key employment issues. Conducted in June, the survey found that  “86 percent of Seattle restaurant workers are proud to work in the industry. Seventy-six percent work the number of hours they want and 89 percent agree they can talk to their manager and give input about their work environment, number of hours and scheduling needs.

Three out of four workers want employers, not government, to design and implement changes that impact them. And, above everything else, workers within certain demographics said access to benefits and higher wages were a higher priority — not scheduling.”  

We’ll find out later — perhaps as early as the end of August — whether Seattle’s predictable scheduling legislation becomes law. But if it does, restaurant owners and managers there — and perhaps soon, elsewhere – will face a daunting task. They’ll have to figure out how to optimize their restaurant’s labors costs and maintain its food and service standards while addressing the scheduling wants and needs of some of its workers — and think it all up two weeks in advance. Let’s hope scheduling software companies can provide robust updates that will make this balancing act possible.  

Contact Bob Krummert: bob.krummert@penton.com

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