City Hall

Herbold, Sawant Question Industry Report on Secure Scheduling

As council continues to study work scheduling guidelines, pros and cons of San Francisco law debated.

By Spencer Ricks June 29, 2016

City council proponents of  “secured scheduling, ” council members Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant, have questioned the legitimacy of a report on the supposed negative consequences of council legislation that would regulate workplace schedules. The main purpose of a secured scheduling ordinance would be to make workers’ schedules more predictable so that workers' lives aren't dictated by whims of management.

At a June 21 Seattle city council hearing, the Hatamiya Group, an economics consulting firm from California, presented its findings in front of Herbold’s civil rights committee on a San Francisco secure scheduling ordinance. Hatamiya detailed how the San Francisco law affected businesses after the rules were put into effect in October 2015.

The secure scheduling ordinance in San Francisco, which is the first of its kind in the nation, requires employers to give their employees two-week’s notice of scheduling changes and extra pay (“predictability pay”) if the employee ends up working outside the scheduled shifts. Employers are also required to offer any extra work hours to existing part-time employees in writing before hiring new employees.

The Hatamiya Group was tasked by the California Retailers Association to create the analysis on San Francisco’s secure scheduling policy.

According to the report, the secure scheduling policy in San Francisco “has resulted in difficult challenges for both employees and employers,” and that there needs to be “more flexibility” than the two-week scheduling window for employees and businesses. It brought up challenges with secure scheduling, including how “employees often do not know their own availability two weeks in advance.”

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Lon Hatamiya, president and CEO of the Hatamiya Group, presented his firm’s report at the hearing. He said the vast majority of employers that he talked to already had a two-week notice period for scheduling.

“This may be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Hatamiya said at the hearing.

Another problem with San Francisco’s secure scheduling ordinance brought up by the Hatamiya Group’s report is that employers cannot accommodate requests by employees themselves for changes and extra hours inside the two week period.

Seema Patel, the Deputy Director of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement in San Francisco, participated in the hearing via phone and disputed that criticism, though.

“I was perplexed because there is no provision in the law that prohibits or in any way inhibits an employee from asking for extra hours,” Patel said. “It really is not an issue we’ve heard of.”

Sage Wilson, communication director for Working Washington, the group that helped organize workers for the $15 minimum wage and is now fighting for secured scheduling in Seattle, said any ordinance they’d support would not prevent employees from making their own changes.

"There's nothing in any proposal that would take away an employee's right to swap shifts with another employee or their ability to ask for more hours inside that two-week window," Wilson said. "In fact, the opposite is true. Right now, all the flexibility is only in the hands of the employer. The access for hours component that we're advocating for would ensure that people working part-time would have a chance to get additional shifts when they become available instead of the employer hiring even more part-time workers."

Employers have noted, though, that if the responsibility to change shifts for workers falls on management (and they argue it should because some employees aren’t comfortable taking that role), managers may run the risk of violating any rule against last-minute changes. Wilson, however, notes that, the extra pay—“predictability pay”—mandated to accompany schedule changes within two weeks would not apply to employee requests.

Hatamiya said his firm surveyed hundreds of employers and employees in San Francisco when making the report, but he didn’t know the exact number of interviewees or how they were surveyed. There were also no percentages or data on the responses they received.

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Because the California Retailers Association sponsored the report— they are currently fighting the ordinance to raise California's minimum wage to $15, and they lobbied against the secured scheduling ordinance in the first place— and because the report didn’t contain any numbers, committee member Sawant was skeptical. She questioned the credibility of the Hatamiya Group—and moreover, as an economist, she said—she had questions about their methodology.

“I just find it strange the economist does not know how many people they interviewed,” Sawant said. “It just reads as an assertion. Just because there are assertions here, that doesn’t make it true; there needs to be a legitimate study to back it up.”

At the hearing, Hatamiya said he would later provide committee chair Herbold with the specific numbers from his report. Alex Clardy, a legislative assistant in Herbold’s staff, said Herbold’s office still hadn’t received the numbers a week after the hearing and were still questioning Hatamiya’s methodology in his report.

Hatamiya did not respond to PubliCola’s requests for comment on the report.

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