A new report presented at city council member Lisa Herbold's civil rights committee Tuesday found that schedules of many hourly workers in Seattle are “unstable” and “have a severe and inequitable impact on workers’ lives.”

The 119-page Scheduling in Seattle report and survey, commissioned by the city and  done by Vigdor Measurement and Evaluation, a local economic consulting firm, polled diverse group of 776 workers and 360 managers from a wide range of businesses with hourly workers across Seattle. Jake Vigdor, a professor of public affairs at the University of Washington, presented the report at the meeting.

Vigdor’s presentation was part of an ongoing series of city council meetings looking at the pros and cons of passing a secured scheduling ordinance in Seattle. The main purpose of a secured scheduling ordinance would be to give worker’s more notice of scheduling changes and access to additional hours before an employer hires more workers.

Sage Wilson, communication director for Working Washington, a group fighting for the secured scheduling ordinance in Seattle, said the report was a step in the right direction to getting secured scheduling to come to Seattle. Wilson and Herbold had been critical of a previous report on a similar secured scheduling ordinance in San Francisco, which presented to the committee in June.

 “The lack of advance notice for their schedules, access to hours, and clopenings are real issues for people in Seattle right now,” Wilson said.

“Clopenings” are when workers work until closing time one day, and then turn around and work again at opening time the next day. According to Vigdor’s report, almost half of all the workers surveyed reported clopening shifts present additional difficulties and only 20 percent of employees work clopenings voluntarily.

In general, workers were clearly burdened by unpredictable scheduling. Nearly half of the respondents on the survey said they would sacrifice a 20 percent pay raise for one week’s advance notice of their schedule.

“When I saw this question being asked in the survey, I bristled because it was like asking people, ‘how much are you willing to be paid to be exploited?’” Herbold said. “I think that when people were answering this question, they were doing a little mental calculator to find out how much not having certainty in their schedule costs them.”

Despite the rhetoric for secured scheduling, not every worker is suffering under difficult scheduling practices, though. Vigdor’s report found that “the majority of employee survey respondents are satisfied with their hours and receive at least a week’s advance notice.”

 “We talked with hundreds of employees, and not all of them are telling us the same story,” Vigdor said. “For some, their current schedule works for them.”

While six workers who testified at the meeting during the public comment segment expressed their difficulty with their schedules, two waitresses spoke out against the proposed secured scheduling change. Dee Fernschild said she was a waitress at a full-service restaurant and is able to pay a mortgage in Seattle and “travel extensively” by working doubles, extra shifts, and clopenings.  

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“Any threat of penalties that you put upon my employer will inevitably trickle down to affect workers, which will result in lack of flexibility and opportunities of making money,” Fernschild said, speaking directly to Herbold. “Your [secured scheduling] ordinance has no place in the full service industry.”

Working Washington's Wilson acknowledged  that many workers are comfortable with their current scheduling process, but he said changes still need to be made for the workers affected by unstable and unpredictable schedules. 

“We think that when there’s...one-in-three or one-in-four workers struggling with their schedules impacting their flexibility, their lives, and their health, then that’s enough to call out for the city to take action and do something about it,” Wilson said.  

Wilson said he hopes to see some drafts of secured scheduling legislation come out of the city council by the end of summer and hopes the secured scheduling ordinance will give workers a two-week notice of their schedules, extra pay if they are given short-term notice of schedule changes, and access to additional hours before the employer hires additional workers. 

Wilson said he is not surprised with most of the data from Vigdor’s report. It reflects the results of other national reports on scheduling and Working Washington’s own surveys, he said. 

Here are some of the other key findings of Vigdor’s survey and report:

  • Thirty percent of employees in Seattle reported “serious hardship” in their personal life from their work schedules. Insufficient hours and exhausting hours are two of the main causes of hardship.
  • Twenty-five percent of workers and 21 percent of employers reported their schedules being posted just 3 days or less in advance.
  • People of color are more likely to get short-notice schedules, to work on-call, or to be sent home early. Sixty-six percent of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders received less than one week’s advance notice of their schedules, while only 38 percent of white workers received short-notice schedules.
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Flagging Vigdor’s noteworthy finding about the racial inequalities in scheduing, Herbold asked Vigdor to explain why the racial disparity exists; the racial component of the scheduling issue is one that proponents of an ordinance have emphasized, and Herbold, a social justice lefty, was clearly trying to tease this point out. 

Unfortunately, Vigdor clearly hadn't done any additional research on this pressing question and stuck to generic analysis: “Seattle is a city that is marked by a high degree of inequality. I think one of things that you find, is that cities that are dense and expensive like Seattle tend to be marked by a higher degree of inequality.”

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