September 17, 2015

Ethan Miller

Promising Fair Schedules Now, Retailers Show That Treating Employees Well Was Always an Option

Bath & Body Works recently announced it would stop utilizing on-call scheduling, becoming the latest in a string of retail establishments, including Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, to abandon the practice.

On-call schedules are popular in the retail and service sectors, forcing employees to schedule their lives around shifts that they might not even get paid for. It’s not uncommon for employees to find out whether or not they need to work a shift less than an hour before they are scheduled to start. But as the recent corporate decisions show, the companies that have chosen to perpetuate this practice can also choose to end it.

The issue of employee scheduling has gained national attention at a time when extreme cost-cutting corporate practices, enabled by new computer software, have lead employers to destabilize the lives of roughly 25 million people across the country. These practices are concentrated in the food service and retail sectors, where 66 percent and 52 percent of employees across the country receive at most one week’s notice of their schedules, respectively. With irregular, unpredictable schedules, working people’s lives have been thrown into disarray.

Without the ability to rely on a consistent schedule and regular hours, employees have a difficult time budgeting and providing for their families. Many working parents are  left scrambling for child care at the last minute, and find it impossible to make enough to put food on the table.

However, the recent announcements from retail behemoths like Bath & Body Works and the Gap prove that unfair scheduling practices are by no means necessary for these businesses to be successful. Instead, just-in-time scheduling is yet another way to slash costs by shifting the risks of running a business to the working men and women who staff their stores. It is clear from these corporations’ announcements that they recognize the negative impact  that unstable scheduling policies have on their employees, but before the recent media attention, were unwilling to change their practices. The Gap, in its announcement, stated that “we recognize that flexibility, inclusive of consistent and reliable scheduling, is important to all of our employees.” But the company fails to explain why it even instituted the policy in the first place, or why it took so long to change a policy that was clearly not working for employees.

States and cities are beginning to recognize the need for reliable schedules as well. In a landmark vote last winter, San Francisco was the first in the country to pass the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, a package of laws that guarantee advance notice of schedules for retail employees and protecting them against on-call scheduling abuses. And in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Indianapolis, employees and activists are joining together to make sure even more people have access to the reliable schedules they need.

For many, the amount and regularity of hours worked can be just as important as the wage they earn. As more political leaders and companies hear the collective voices of working people, we can expect to see even more changes in the scheduling practices of large service-sector employers. In the meantime, remember that retailers actively choose to implement these abusive practices, and they can choose to end them as well.

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