New Report Reveals a Scheduling Emergency for Service Workers

From Working Washington's report on scheduling in Seattle.

From Working Washington’s report on scheduling in Seattle.

Recently, Working Washington interviewed over 300 service industry Seattle workers about their schedules. If you don’t work in the service industry, or if you haven’t worked in the service industry for over a decade, you might find the results to be shocking. Everybody knows that retail and food service employers demand out-of-the-ordinary schedules from their employees. That’s just a fact of life; people don’t eat dinner inside a 9-to-5 schedule. Whenever I applied for a service job, I was warned that I’d be expected to work nights and weekends. It’s what you sign up for.

But here’s what you shouldn’t have to sign up for when you get hired: schedules that refuse to make room for family, higher education, or even second jobs; schedules that are so wildly varied that you’ll have no idea how much money you’ll be making at the end of the month; and schedules that consistently leave you feeling sick, stressed out, and exhausted. Employer expectations for scheduling in the service industry have gotten way out of hand.

Just take a look at what Working Washington has uncovered. Half of all the workers they talked to receive their schedules one week or less in advance. Of that half, 21 percent received less than one week notice for their weekly schedule. Imagine not knowing on Sunday if you’ll have to work on Monday. That’s the schedule that tens of thousands of people in the Seattle area live with right now.

Of the 300 people Working Washington talked to, the average part-time work week was 25 hours, with a weekly variability of 14.9 hours—so you might work ten hours one week and 40 hours the next. In fact, three-quarters of all those employees polled saw their weekly schedules regularly grow or shrink by 8 hours or more. How do you plan around a schedule like that, with a full days work (and pay) disappearing and reappearing at random? How do you budget rent, food, transportation and all the other necessities, knowing that you very well might get three ten-hour weeks in a row?

And more than half of those employees polled—55 percent—reported having to work clopening shifts, where you close the store one night and open it early the next morning. When you combine all these elements together, you get an unhealthy, insecure environment for our workers. Almost 40 percent of all workers said their schedules were negatively impacting their health, and nearly a third reported that the unpredictability of their schedules made it harder to get a second job.

Worse still, unpredictable scheduling doesn’t affect everyone equally. Women, for instance, are nearly twice as likely to have less than one week notice on their schedules than men. Nearly half of all workers of color want to work more hours than their bosses are offering, but that their schedules also interfered with the procurement of a second job, so they were stuck in the uncomfortable position of not being paid enough, but not being able to do anything about it without quitting their job entirely.

At the first Seattle city council meeting to discuss the topic of secure scheduling, lawyer Bob Donovan said that scheduling didn’t “seem like it’s an emergency situation.”  I wish he’d told that to the people who can’t get the second jobs that they so desperately need to stay afloat, to the kids who don’t get to spend time with their parents, to the women who don’t know on Tuesday if they’re going to work on Wednesday, or if they’ll have enough in their paycheck to cover rent because of that. I bet for the people Working Washington surveyed, it sure feels like an emergency to them.

(To learn more about secure scheduling, check out the latest episode of our podcast, The Other Washington.)

Paul Constant

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