LABOR WATCH--While online shopping has fundamentally changed retail and several major brands have shut down shops, America is not experiencing a so-called retail apocalypse. Brick and mortar stores still employ almost 16 million retail workers nationwide, and according to Forbes, “90% of consumer spending is still happening in the real world.” In fact, the 2017 holiday season saw the “strongest growth in holiday retail sales since the end of the Great Recession.”
The people who make all of this possible are retail workers dealing with low wages and other challenges that disrupt their lives, including last-minute scheduling changes, no time off for emergencies or special events, unpredictable schedules from week to week that preclude second jobs and complicate child- and eldercare, underemployment (getting fewer hours than requested), and lack of benefits for part-time workers.
These are hardworking parents who struggle to pick up their children at school or take them to the doctor when they are sick because of such erratic work schedules. These are college students who aren’t sure from one week to the next if they can pay their rent, let alone cover tuition and books, because their paychecks are inconsistent. Unstable work hours lead to poor health. Stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, irregular meal times, and missed medical appointments all result in serious health problems because of erratic scheduling.
In 2016, the UCLA Labor Center surveyed young workers aged 18–29 in Los Angeles who experienced volatile and unpredictable scheduling practices. They found that 9 out of 10 young workers in LA have no set schedule, and the vast majority of workers — 96% — experience at least one challenging scheduling practice, including on-call work, lack of advance notice, or fluctuating schedules. More than a third of workers surveyed (38%) experience all three challenging scheduling practices.
Over the past two years, city councils in San Francisco, Emeryville, Seattle, and New York — as well as the state legislature in Oregon — have passed fair scheduling policies to improve these scheduling conditions. Lawmakers in Chicago have also introduced a fair workweek ordinance.
As scheduling looks to be the next frontier in the workers’ rights movement, Los Angeles cannot afford to fall behind. The retail industry is one of Los Angeles’ biggest employers, with almost 140,000 retail workers in the city. Los Angeles needs to fight for a comprehensive Fair Workweek policy to make retail work more just for these thousands of workers. We must expand on what other cities have done and create a model for other cities to follow.
The Center for Popular Democracy did an extensive national study of retail workers in 2017, surveying over 1,000 people working in retail and finding that “despite statewide minimum wage gains and some voluntary reforms by employers, many people struggle to achieve economic stability due to significant income volatility and wage stagnation.”
These findings and interviews with workers formed the basis of a policy our friends at the Fair Workweek Initiative are working on to advance a fair workweek. This would include “predictable, stable, transparent schedules; access to full-time employment; equitable part-time work and opportunities to advance; a voice in our work schedules; using technology for a high-road in workforce management; and a 21st Century social safety net for today’s workforce.”
In the coming months, Los Angeles will proudly join this fight for a Fair Workweek policy change. We look forward to sharing more soon about how you can join us to support LA in fighting for a fair workweek.
(Roxana Tynan is the Executive Director of LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy), an advocacy organization dedicated to building a new economy for all.)