Lawmakers introduce ‘fair scheduling’ bill to end unpredictable work shifts

Daniel J. Munoz//January 31, 2020//

Lawmakers introduce ‘fair scheduling’ bill to end unpredictable work shifts

Daniel J. Munoz//January 31, 2020//

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Lawmakers introduced a bill this week to end unpredictable and back-to-back scheduling, which advocates argue could help shift workers employed at retail, hospitality and fast food businesses across the state.

Unions and labor rights activists are backing the “fair scheduling” measure, Senate Bill 921, arguing that these practices destroy the work-life balance and drag down the health and quality of life for employees. The legislation requires employers to post a worker’s schedule at least two weeks in advance, compensate them for any time they are on call, give workers a 12-hour break between shifts, and provide a set number of hours each week so that weekly pay does not fluctuate.

Businesses would have to pay time-and-a-half to employees for agreeing to work within 12 hours of their last shift to stop so-called “clopening shifts,” where a worker is assigned to an evening closing shift and the opening shift just a few hours later. They would also be owed that rate for the hours they would have worked during a shift if that shift is canceled or cut within two weeks.

Workers must provide their employer with a schedule they would prefer, which they would endeavor to accommodate.

Businesses with at least 250 workers would be subject to these requirements, regardless of whether all the employees are in New Jersey. The regulations are crafted to apply to chains and franchises, typically in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

The proposal comes on the heels of similar laws that have been enacted in Philadelphia, New York City and San Francisco, as well as Oregon.

“For too many workers in New Jersey today, unpredictable work schedules are leading to unstable and unsustainable lives,” Shane Mitchell, an aide for the bill’s main sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, said at a press conference in Trenton Thursday morning.

“Too many people are missing doctor appointments, parent-teacher conferences, time with their kids or even downtime.”

Businesses and trade groups have begun pushing back against the proposal.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO, NJBIA.

“This bill could eventually harm employees who actually seek more flexible hours in the food service, hospitality and retail industries, in particular,” New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and Chief Executive Officer Michelle Siekerka said Thursday in a statement. “We anticipate that, without key changes to this legislation, it will have unintended consequences for those seeking flexible scheduling that can accommodate their work-life balance.”

But proponents argue that the measure would be a boost for the economic justice of shift workers—500,000 of which in New Jersey could be affected according to Adil Ahmed, director of worker organizing and policy at Make the Road New Jersey, which started the fair scheduling campaign last year.

“Workers in low-wage, hourly jobs in the warehouse, retail, hospitality and fast food industries are facing unpredictable work hours and fluctuating weekly income,” Ahmed said Thursday. “These practices keep low-wage workers … from earning wages that help them provide for their families.”

A study this month by the University of California Berkeley found that 59 percent of New Jersey workers receive their work schedules with less than two weeks notice, 49 percent worked “clopenings,” and 29 percent reported at least one on-call shift in the prior month, where they had to keep their schedule open for their employer, even if they would not be called into work.