Over the past few months, the Chamber of Commerce and its Big Business allies have mounted an all-out war against AB 357, the Fair Scheduling Act of 2015, by Assemblymember Chiu and Assemblymember Weber. AB 357 is a bill that would simply ensure that workers are provided with fair and predictable work schedules so that they can manage their lives and other commitments, like second jobs, school, family care, or medical appointments. As more employers move to “just-in-time” scheduling, which gives workers little to no notice of what days or hours they’ll be working, the need for AB 357 is abundantly clear, which is why dozens of labor, civil rights, anti-poverty and women’s groups all support this bill.
Yet, as the bill moves to a floor vote in the Assembly this week, opponents of the bill have been bombarding legislators and news outlets with misleading information and “sky is falling” rhetoric designed to confuse legislators and alarm small businesses in the state. Don’t be fooled.
First, this bill only applies to very large food and retail establishments — those with 500 or more employees in the state and 10 or more establishments in the United States — large corporations with extensive resources. In fact, these are the corporations that created the advanced computerized scheduling algorithms that have put workers’ schedules in constant flux in order to maximize profitability.
The Chamber claims that the bill would penalize employers who make changes to a work schedule with less than two weeks’ notice of the scheduled shift. This is false. Additional pay is only required if a change is made with less than one week’s notice. The penalty for short scheduling is only one hour of additional pay, unless the change is made within 24 hours of the scheduled shift, in which case the extra pay varies between two and four hours of additional pay, depending on the length of the shift. Considering the havoc this type of erratic scheduling wreaks on workers juggling multiple jobs and families, this is hardly a severe penalty.
They also claim that this bill denies employees the opportunity to pick up additional hours at the last minute. This, too, is false. The bill contains numerous exceptions that allow for flexibility. For example, the bill would not apply if another employee is unable to work because of illness, vacation, or time off or if an employee trades shifts with another employee or requests a change in his or her shift.
Opponents argue that the bill would tie the hands of store managers in their ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances such as changes in weather, a product delivery date or a product launch. The bill explicitly provides exceptions for situations like public utilities failures or acts of God. Product delivery dates or product launches, on the other hand, are circumstances that large retailers know about well in advance. Nothing prevents them from making necessary scheduling changes with adequate notice to its workers.
As a last ditch effort, opponents clamor for more time to assess how San Francisco’s fair scheduling ordinance will work. For the thousands of workers whose schedules change daily, the time to act is now. In fact, a unified statewide policy would benefit both retailers and workers in California. Otherwise, retailers will have to deal with a patchwork of local laws as other cities follow in San Francisco’s footsteps.
It is time to set the facts straight on AB 357. Scheduling fairness has been a core, fundamental principle of this state since the establishment of the eight-hour day and forty-hour work week.
Even in 1999, when the legislature passed AB 60, which codified California’s overtime requirements, the Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, stating that “employers should be able to work employees 10 or 12 hours a day, without the penalty of overtime if competitive forces necessitate such work schedules.”
We cannot buy in to the same old arguments. In the same way overtime laws affect employer scheduling practices – by imposing a premium or penalty on an employer for using overtime labor– and to compensate employees for the burden of a long week, AB 357 would impose a premium on an employer for last-minute scheduling changes. The power dynamic between employer and employee is already skewed in favor of the employer. Compensating employees for the burden of an erratic schedule is just a small incentive for employers to plan ahead so employees can do the same.
AB 357 is about fundamental fairness and recognizing that, like with our overtime laws, maximizing profitability for large businesses should not come at the expense of our working families.