One can believe that more should be done to make work work for families and still oppose the recently tabled proposal for the city of Minneapolis to dictate job scheduling rules to all of its thousands of employers.
If one is Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey, one can and does.
First-termer Frey emerged in recent weeks as a visible and vocal opponent of the policy ideas on scheduling touted for several contentious months by Mayor Betsy Hodges. The 34-year-old DFL attorney has also let it be known that he would have given Major League Soccer’s stadium overtures a warmer reception than DFLer Hodges did. And he’s done nothing to tamp down speculation that his political ambitions run well beyond the Minneapolis City Council.
Let’s hear him out, thought I — particularly on scheduling. It was the hottest button in Hodges’ employment-related, equity-promoting Working Families Agenda. It has at least one good feminist — me — feeling torn.
It’s easy to believe that unpredictable, just-in-time work schedules are detrimental to workers — particularly low-income single parents dealing with child or elder care, working multiple jobs and/or taking college classes in pursuit of a better career. It’s easy to suspect that working women are disproportionately subjected to employer disregard for all the other responsibilities of adulthood that they bear. After all, the entire American economy has long been blind to the value of what was traditionally deemed “women’s work.”
But it’s also easy to conjure the names and circumstances of businesses whose employment needs aren’t predictable. Take funeral homes. Or event vendors. Or special-projects consultants. Or anything in Minnesota that’s weather-dependent. A one-size-fits-all citywide scheduling policy would hit such businesses hard.
And that would be neither fair nor in keeping with the rightful role of government, Frey said he concluded.
“Laws exist not for the 98 percent that would do the right thing, but for the 2 percent that would flirt with bad activity in the absence of repercussions. Laws should target just that 2 percent, and should be narrowly tailored. Overbreadth would stifle privately generated entrepreneurial progress from the good actors, the kind that government should be cheering. That’s what you have to look at every time you legislate.”
The proposal that’s been shelved was guilty of “overbreadth,” Frey argued. It would have required all Minneapolis employers to provide employees with work schedules two weeks in advance. In addition, it would have ordered one hour of “predictability pay” when a schedule is adjusted and four hours’ pay if a shift was canceled or changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.
That went too far for many of the dozens of businesses that contacted Frey, he said. Notably, they are considerably less exercised over two other items on the Working Families Agenda that are still in play — a scheme allowing employees to accrue paid sick leave, and beefed-up protection for employees forced to work without pay, aka “wage theft.” Those two aspects of Hodges’ plan stand a good chance of winning eventual city approval and the backing of employers who do right by their workers.
“The vast majority of businesses in this city are doing the right thing,” Frey said. “We have to appreciate and acknowledge that. These are people who have poured their life savings, their sweat, into starting a business that may not ultimately be successful. We should be cheering them on.
“As for the bad actors, we should figure out who they are, what they’re doing, and determine how to target them.”
Any such targeting needs to be enforceable. That was Frey’s other beef with Hodges’ scheduling proposal. Enforcing it seemed likely to require a large, costly and intrusive city bureaucracy — one capable of adjudicating not only complaints about work schedules but also the whistleblower reprisals that would likely follow such complaints.
That’s not how the alderman who represents fast-growing places like North Loop and Downtown East wants to exert the city’s clout. Frey said he’d rather see city government work for more socioeconomic and cultural integration of Minneapolis housing, working and living patterns. More than half a century after racial segregation was outlawed, race-based enclaves remain in the state’s largest city, contributing to persistent gaps between white and nonwhite populations in income, education and well-being.
The city’s ability to control land use gives it an important tool with which to promote integration, something Frey says he’s pushing in a ward that was home to 60 percent of the entire city’s growth in the past year. “My belief is that we all do better when we all live together — a little variation on the old saying,” he said.
By design or not, Frey himself has come to represent a little variation on the political tune being hummed in the mayor’s office. He’s pro-business, “but not at the expense of working people,” he hastens to add. He’s pro-equity, but not the kind that’s administered with a heavy regulatory hand. He’s pro-development as a means for addressing social problems — like a soccer stadium (as of Friday, destined for St. Paul) that could have provided a “beautiful connection” between rich and poor neighborhoods west of downtown.
Those Frey/Hodges variations may turn out to be pleasing harmony within the city’s big DFL chorus. Or they may be the first notes of something more discordant to come.
Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, is at firstname.lastname@example.org.