If you, like me, are concerned about how the emerging on-demand economy is keeping working families on standby permanently, you should pay attention to the Minneapolis City Council’s actions in the coming weeks. If they do the right thing, working men and women could get a ticket to first-class opportunities for a better life.
Some of the region’s employers — retailers, restaurants, hospitals — are fighting a proposed city ordinance that would give workers ample scheduling notice. They claim it would interfere with their ability to compete within a fluctuating economy. Well, I’ve got news for them. Airlines have figured out how to create a just-in-time scheduling system that works for everyone, and unlike in retail, their system doesn’t dump the flexibility burden on employees.
I’m a flight attendant who has worked in the airline industry for 24 years, including almost 20 as a union leader who has helped flight attendants negotiate contracts. Over the past decade, airline employees have worked with our industry to develop electronic scheduling with built-in protections for workers and our families. We’ve had to. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a particular staffing level for every airplane before it can leave the ground.
In order to meet the FAA’s stipulation, we have developed a system in which a group of paid workers is almost always waiting in reserve. We know our schedules in advance of each calendar month, and we’re paid extra if we’re unexpectedly called in. Flight canceled? We still have paid protections. Our employers don’t just hand us our schedules; our union contracts ensure that we have real input into which trips we take, allowing us to attend that important event or keep a key appointment. We also have very clear maximum work hours as well as built-in minimum rest time.
Far too many local workers have no such guarantees, including most of the 60,000 Twin Cities retail employees. Store managers routinely call in workers on a moment’s notice, cancel their shifts without compensation, or demand that employees wait — unpaid — on the off chance they may be called in. Lately it’s gotten even worse. Managers are utilizing increasingly sophisticated computer algorithms to build their work schedules. They can punch in real-time sales data to figure out just how many people they need to ring up customers making Saturday morning Cheerios runs or to cover that after-the-game rush for hamburgers and chips.
Working people, meanwhile, bear nearly the entire responsibility of employers’ desire for flexibility. They work 30 hours one week, then 10 the next. They can’t plan for child care, school activities or even a dinner date. A whopping 87 percent of young retail workers reported in a recent regional study that they face fluctuating hours every month. This isn’t just a flexibility issue; it’s an economic issue, too. You can’t pay the bills from week to week if you have no idea how many hours you might work.
The idea behind the Minneapolis ordinance is that it would give the city’s working families some basic scheduling security. It would require employers to give workers ample notice of their schedule, to pay them if they cancel a shift within 24 hours, and guarantee them an adequate break between shifts. It’s common-sense legislation, and similar laws have been proposed in 10 states, including Minnesota.
The City Council soon will be debating the bill, so please make sure your seat belts are fastened. It’s likely to be a bumpy ride, because Minnesota’s Retail Alliance and Chamber of Commerce have so far opposed fair scheduling legislation, arguing that such rules will hamstring their ability to operate in today’s changing economy. Such objections are self-serving and transparent. Airlines and flight attendants have illustrated that we can build scheduling systems that meet everyone’s needs.
Everyone knows we need new and dynamic rules to govern changing, 21st-century workplaces. It’s time that fair scheduling legislation gets a clear landing in Minneapolis.
Veda Shook is the national organizing director for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the former international president of the Association of Flight Attendants.