Workers: Fair scheduling measure would restore work-life balance

Hourly workers listen as Rep. Rena Moran (second from left) describes her bill to bring balance to the state's work scheduling laws.

Hourly workers listen as Rep. Rena Moran (second from left) explains her bill to bring balance to the state’s work scheduling laws.

Pushing back against an upswing in reports of Minnesota workers struggling to meet their employers’ increasingly irregular scheduling demands, a coalition of worker-advocacy groups today unveiled legislation to bring fairness to the state’s workplace scheduling laws.

The House bill, authored by DFL Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul, would require employers to provide hourly employees with their work schedules 21 days in advance, compensate workers whose shifts are cancelled within a 24-hour window and guarantee workers have access to adequate rest between shifts.

“This bill would make sure that employees who are forced to make themselves available to an employer’s scheduling needs are compensated accordingly and able to count on at least a minimum income every payday,” Moran said at a press conference in St. Paul earlier this week.

[Click here to take action in support the fair scheduling bill by e-mailing your state lawmaker.]

Several low-wage, hourly workers who stand to benefit from the legislation joined Moran, including members of the Twin Cities-based worker center CTUL, Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach initiative to non-union workers with more than 280,000 members in Minnesota.

Andy Barno-Iversen, a member of Working America, explains the toll "clopening" – working consecutive closing and opening shifts – takes on workers and their families.

Andy Barno-Iversen describes the toll “clopening” – working consecutive closing and opening shifts – takes on workers and their families.

Scrambling to get hours

Workers took turns at the podium venting their frustrations with practices gaining popularity among fast-food, retail and other service-sector employers, from “just-in-time” scheduling that allows managers to call in staff on a moment’s notice to “clopening,” Andy Barno-Iversen’s term for back-to-back shifts that ended late and began early the next morning.

Barno-Iversen described working full-time at a Minneapolis co-op grocery while also studying at the University of Minnesota. Twice each week, he would get home from work at 10 p.m. after closing the store, then go back to work by 4:30 a.m. the next day to open.

“I was exhausted,” the Working America member said. “I ended up dropping out of class because my academic performance suffered so badly. My work performance suffered.”

His department has since eliminated “clopening,” Barno-Iversen said, “but thousands of Minnesota retail workers, students and families do have to deal with those scheduling issues… To amend that is just a simple act of consideration.”

Other hourly workers recalled watching their paychecks shrink after their employers switched from conventional scheduling to on-call, “flex,” or “just-in-time” scheduling.

CTUL member Bobby Brown said his hours at a McDonald’s in Bloomington have dried up to the point where his last paycheck was $14. Ronda Jama, a wheelchair agent at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, used to work four days per week; now she works two – and waits “on call” in case AirServ, her employer, makes more hours available.

“It changed the cycle of our life,” Jama said. “It’s hard because we are on call right now. They call you whenever they want you.”

Bobby Brown's last paycheck from McDonald's amounted to $14.

Bobby Brown’s last paycheck from McDonald’s amounted to $14.

Both Jama and Brown earn minimum wage, $8 per hour. The employers most likely to utilize aggressive scheduling practices, Working America State Director Bree Halverson said, are also most likely to pay low wages.

“Unpredictable hours make economic mobility and achieving the American Dream even harder, especially if you’re already struggling to get by,” Halverson said. “Minnesota families need 21st-century scheduling policies that keep up with the changing nature of today’s workplace.”

‘Freedom and stability’

Moran’s proposal to bring fairness to workers’ schedules is another variation on an encouraging theme at the Capitol this session, with lawmakers looking to provide workers – and their families – with the stability and security they need to ensure a healthy work-life balance.

The day after advocates unveiled the scheduling bill, House DFLers rolled out their Working Parents Act, pulling together earned sick and safe time, wage theft, paid family leave and scheduling bills into an all-inclusive measure.

Moran called scheduling fairness “one brick in a road to a better life.”

“This bill is an important first step toward bringing more freedom and stability to employees who work hard, who want to receive hourly wages and who need to plan for their future and the future of (their) families,” Moran said.

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