In a historic vote, the Seattle City Council passed the country’s second comprehensive fair workweek law, giving tens of thousands in the city more input into their work hours and giving workers more advance notice of shifts, fair compensation when shifts change unexpectedly, and eliminate harmful back-to-back shifts called “clopenings.” The move comes just days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support for similar protections for fast-food workers and indicates growing momentum for the fair workweek movement.
“For years, working people in Seattle and across the country have asked for hours that let them balance a job, a family, and a life. Today, their call has been answered,” says Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at Center for Popular Democracy. “Those working in Seattle’s retail, restaurant and coffee chains will no longer have to turn their lives upside down just to earn enough hours to survive— and they will finally gain a greater voice in how much and when they work. We can expect the vote in Seattle will inspire other cities to act.”
Workers from Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, and more have been calling attention to work schedules that vary significantly from week to week and demand 24/7 availability. A campaign by Starbucks baristas to highlight such conditions came to a head in 2014, when the New York Times detailed the plight of one such barista, a mother scrambling to keep up with her schedule. Starbucks pledged to address these issues immediately, yet a Center for Popular Democracy and CoWorker.org report a year later found that many employees were still subject to harmful scheduling.
Starbucks baristas, led by Seattle’s Working Washington, called on the coffee giant to fix its scheduling practices, organizing numerous rallies around the country, and launching online petitions that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. They asked the Seattle City Council to act, joined by fast food workers from McDonald’s and Domino’s and retail workers from the likes of REI and Target, among others.
Seattle is the second city in the country to pass a comprehensive set of work hours policies for service sector workers. San Francisco implemented the country’s first set of scheduling protections in 2015 with the Retail Worker Bill of Rights. Earlier this year, Washington, D.C., also passed a historic law guaranteeing building janitors a minimum of 30 hours a week, and San Jose will decide on a similar ballot measure in November to give part-time workers the opportunity to work more hours. Emeryville, CA, which last year passed the nation’s highest minimum wage, is also considering a fair workweek bill.
“Seattle is breaking new ground that will change the balance of power in coffee, food, and retail workplaces across the city,” says Sejal Parikh, the executive director of Working Washington. “It will transform the lives of tens of thousands of Seattle workers by recognizing that people who have jobs also have lives and needs outside of work—and requiring that big companies make schedules which respect that our time counts, too.”
Seattle’s ordinance addresses the crisis by setting new standards for schedules:
Two weeks of advance notice of schedules, and a periodic good-faith estimate of hours.
Predictability pay when changes are made: one additional hour when an employer adds a shifts and half-time pay for hours that are cut. (Shift swaps and other voluntary changes by employees of course do not trigger predictability pay.)
A right to rest that eliminates mandatory clopenings by requiring 10 hours rest between shifts, which start on consecutive days. (This does not affect split shifts or doubles; voluntary clopenings would be paid at time-and-a-half)
Meaningful input into work schedules, particularly as it affects caregiving, education, second jobs, and other important needs.
Strong protections against retaliation.
The law will cover employees who work at coffee, retail, and fast food chains with more than 500 global employees, as well as full-service restaurant chains with more than 500 global employees and 40 locations. It will affect tens of thousands of people in the city.
A broad coalition, including UFCW Local 21, SEIU Local 775 and the King County Labor Council, supported Seattle’s Secure Scheduling law.
“For three weeks, I was only scheduled for eight hours a week,” says Oliver Savage, a barista at Starbucks. “I racked up credit card debt and went those weeks only eating one meal a day to get by. I recently transferred to another Starbucks location, but I’m still not getting the hours I was told I would get, and they keep hiring new part-time workers.”
“Working in fast food can be difficult when you only get your schedule a day in advance, especially when your shifts fluctuate and you get different hours week to week,” adds Crystal Thompson, a worker at a Domino’s Pizza supporting two young children. “It’s hard to pay your bills. It’s hard to plan your daily life. It’s hard to find childcare, hard to make appointments, and hard to plan a budget.”
“Last Sunday, I was sick and took a sick day. After that they took 2 days off my schedule, a schedule I only get one week in advance,” says Ana Esteves, a worker at Wendy’s. “I have four children I need to provide for, when my hours are cut it takes a toll on my ability to pay bills.”