Fast-Food Workers Rally for Regular Schedules

January 25, 2017 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY - Spattered by freezing rain, several dozen fast-food workers rallied outside City Hall Jan. 24, before going inside to lobby City Councilmembers to pass laws requiring their employers to give them more regular schedules.

“We have a life to plan,” Janice Brooks, who works for the Subway hero chain, told them.

Three bills introduced in the Council in December would limit practices such as on-call scheduling and “clopening,” in which workers who close a restaurant at night have to come in for the morning shift the next day. A fourth, the Fast-Food Worker Empowerment Act, would essentially establish dues checkoff for worker organizations without a union contract: Employers in the fast-food industry would have to honor workers’ requests to deduct voluntary contributions of at least $3 a week from their paycheck to a nonprofit group they choose. 

Intro 1396, the farthest-reaching of the bills, would require fast-food and retail businesses to give workers at least two weeks’ advance notice of what their schedules will be—both their regular shifts and days when they’re on call. If they give less than 14 days notice, they’d have to pay the worker an extra $15 for each shift that’s either rescheduled or lengthened, and $45 for each one that’s cancelled or shortened. If a shift is shortened or cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice, they’d have to pay the worker $75. The penalties wouldn’t apply in emergency situations like a blackout or a bomb threat.

“I never know when I’m working or when I’m not working,” Alexis El, 19, who works part-time at a KFC in Brooklyn, told LaborPress. She’s normally notified what her hours will be on Sundays, “but my manager might want to change things up during the week.”

She would like to use her days off to schedule doctor’s appointments—her baby is due in July—and spend time with her mother and family, but says she can’t plan “because I’m always getting switched around.” If she’s called to come in the same day and says no, “then I just lose my hours.”

Intro 1388 would require employers to pay $100 each time a worker does a “clopening” with less than 11 hours between the night and morning shifts, unless the worker asks for or consents to that schedule in writing. Under Intro 1395, fast food employers would have to offer available shifts to current part-time workers before they could hire anyone new.

“I’m sorry it takes legislation to force your employers to treat you with respect,” Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) told the group.

All four bills have over 30 cosponsors in the Council, according to SEIU Local 32BJ, which organized the rally. Other unions endorsing the package include CWA District One, the Legal Services Staff Association, Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Short-notice scheduling is most common in retail and restaurants, according to “Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers From Getting Ahead,” a study by Community Service Society senior labor economist Harold Stolper released in December. In a survey of more than 1,700 New Yorkers, more than one-third of the respondents with jobs said they got less than two weeks notice of their schedules. Among those below the federal poverty level—such as a single mother with two children working less than 32 hours a week for $12 an hour—57% got less than two weeks’ notice, and 27% got less than 24 hours’ notice.

Almost half the respondents who worked in retail got less than two weeks notice of what days and hours they had to work. Among restaurant and retail workers making less than twice the federal poverty level, 40% got less than a week’s notice. Almost a quarter of the respondents said the hours they worked fluctuated “a great deal” from week to week, including more than one-third in restaurants and retail.

Janice Brooks, a 49-year-old Jamaican immigrant with two children, is one of them. She’s scheduled to work 38 hours a week at Subway, two seven-hour shifts during the week and 12 hours a day on weekends, but her hours can fall below 30 when business is slow. Another issue, she says, is that she’s sometimes called in to a different store, so she can’t be sure whether she’ll be working in Brooklyn Heights or Crown Heights.

“As workers face threats from the new administration in Washington, we’re committed to keeping New York City a worker-friendly city, and we thank the Councilmembers who are standing with us,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said in a statement.

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