One City May Have Just Solved the Economic Injustice Facing Hourly Workers

January 2nd 2015

SAN FRANCISCO: Despite the angst that has covered much of the country over wages, San Francisco is giving new hope to a labor movement that could recapture the spirit of the American worker. The city recently approved what many economists and labor activists believe could be a litmus test for other municipalities across the country: a workers’ bill of rights.

Popularly dubbed the “Retail Worker Bill of Rights,” here are the law's two major protections that will go into effect on July 5, 2015:

  • Large companies must offer existing employees more hours before hiring more part-time employees. In essence, large companies cannot reduce employees’ hours and hire multiple part-time workers unless the existing employees are first offered the additional hours. In recent years, workers have reported seeing hours drop as companies look for ways to avoid paying health care benefits by simply adding more part-time workers.
  • Predictable schedules. The bill seeks to eliminate the unpredictability of hours from one week to the next by mandating that large companies post schedules two weeks in advance. If the schedule is changed with less than a week's notice, workers will receive one hour of pay. They will receive two to four hours of pay for changes made with less than 24 hours notice. They'll also get two to four hours if employers require the worker to be on-call for a certain shift then cancel that shift without 24 hours notice. Unpredictable hours are a huge problem for workers and can make workers economically immobile. For example, you can't schedule night classes to pursue a degree when your employer does not offer predictable hours.

These rules, by the way, affect “formula retail” companies -- larger companies with 11 or more outlets nationally. According to Jobs with Justice San Francisco, the labor organization who helped draft the bills, there are 1,250 businesses and around 100,000 employees who fall into this category.

Is this a precedent?

As 2015 begins, the question for the city and the rest of the country is whether progressive movement on workers' rights can continue.

The hope, for many activists and labor specialists, is that through this initial stage in the “Bill of Rights” debate, it will help to shed a greater understanding on working conditions for all sectors, where the vast majority of “full-time” staff remains well below the 40-hour a week threshold defined as full-time work by the US Department of Labor.

Speaking publicly, Supervisor John Avalos, a supporter of the bills, compared the current plight of retail employees trapped in the “race-to-the-bottom Walmart model” to those of workers 100 years ago, before the rise of 20th-century unionization and workplace protection laws. 

The retail lobby is unlikely to take kindly to new legislation that would cut into their current employment practices. 

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