LA Will Consider Giving Retail Workers A Break From Hectic Schedules

Supporters of retail scheduling protections in Los Angeles gather for a press conference, Feb. 28, 2019. (David Wagner/KPCC)

Angelenos with retail jobs could soon be working more predictable hours.

Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion on Friday that could lead to new scheduling rules for the city's more than 147,000 retail employees.

Council President Herb Wesson spoke in favor of what policymakers call a "fair workweek" at a Thursday press conference on the campus of Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Council members Curren Price and Paul Koretz also voiced their support.

"You have a lot of people that work in retail that have children, and need to take them to the doctor or a variety of other things," Wesson said. "Most people have predictability in their life, and that's all we're trying to come up with here."

Los Angeles has already passed a $15 minimum wage. But higher pay won't necessarily help workers who can't count on a reliable schedule.

Downtown L.A. Whole Foods employee Alissa Harrison said when her hours get cut without much notice, she struggles to pay rent and other expenses.

"Even down to something like groceries. Which is ironic because I work for a grocery store. Your budget can just drop, drastically," Harrison said, explaining that she's also missed family events like her niece's birthday party.

Whole Foods representatives did not respond to a request for comment on the company's scheduling practices.

The motion introduced Friday instructs the city attorney's office to craft an ordinance that would apply to employers in Los Angeles with 300 workers or more, regardless of where those workers are based. Some rules that could be part of the ordinance include:

  • A requirement that employers post schedules at least two weeks in advance
  • The right for workers to refuse shifts assigned on short notice
  • Extra pay for last-minute scheduling changes
  • Restrictions on scheduling workers for shifts less than 10 hours apart
  • Giving part-time employees access to more hours before employers hire new workers

They city's move follows similar legislation recently passed in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Emeryville. The L.A. ordinance would cover retail and grocery store workers, but unlike rules passed in other cities, it would not apply to fast food workers.

The idea is likely to receive pushback from local employers that have come to rely on a flexible workforce.

In an emailed statement, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce vice president Jessica Duboff said, "Predictive scheduling is often actually restrictive scheduling, imposing a one-size fits all system that threatens the flexibility of employees and employers. It can also end up reducing opportunities for seasonal employment and part-time or summer work for students."

Most L.A. retail workers have schedules that are nothing like a nine-to-five, according to a report released last year by the UCLA Labor Center and advocacy group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Eighty-four percent of surveyed workers said their hours change from week to week. More than three quarters said they receive their schedules with a week's notice or less.

The report found workers with unstable schedules often struggle to make ends meet and manage other priorities like child care, education or finding a second job.

Scheduling issues can also lead to workplace conflict, according to a local retail worker named Valentina. We're only using her middle name because her employer, a national drug store chain, has told her not to speak with the media.

Valentina said she recently scheduled a doctor's appointment around one of her shifts. But her hours are only posted in the break room, and they're often changed without her knowledge. At the last minute she found out that her manager had scheduled her for a shift during her appointment.

"He tried to put the blame on me, like, 'Don't let this happen again,'" Valentina said. "How could it not happen again? It's not only me. I've seen it happen many times. Because they're constantly changing schedules."

LAist reached out to the employer to ask about its scheduling policies but did not receive a response.

Before coming up for a final vote, the motion would likely go through the council's Economic Development committee. Organizers hope the ordinance will pass later this year.

UPDATE:

2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with details of the motion introduced Friday.

This article was originally published on Thursday afternoon.