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Friday, Jul 12, 2024

Retailers Facing New Work Rules

A local campaign pushing for regulations requiring retailers to schedule employee shifts further in advance stands to limit how employers can operate as well as levy new costs on them. At issue are what labor advocates say are the erratic scheduling practices of many retailers, which they argue impose unnecessary hardships on employees. Fresh off a successful campaign to raise the minimum wage in Los Angeles, activists now have their sights set on requiring mid-to-large-sized retail companies in the city of Los Angeles to provide more predictable schedules for workers. Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association, sees the campaign, combined with the recent minimum wage hikes, as making the state an increasingly hostile place for businesses. He said increased competition from online retailers is intensifying the issue. “Local governments are putting in policies that could end up closing brick-and-mortar stores,” he said. The group spearheading the push for so-called predictive scheduling is Los Angeles Alliance For a New Economy, or LAANE, an influential union-backed organization that has become a political force in Los Angeles. It recently co-funded a report with the UCLA Law Center that claimed 77 percent of retail employees receive a week or less notice on their schedules, and that most experience last-minute shift changes. Nelson Motto, director of LAANE’s Fair Workweek LA campaign, said the group is only pushing for new regulations on retailers (not including restaurants) with more than 300 global employees. Although LAANE is still drafting the specifics of its policy position, the group is looking at predictive scheduling ordinances passed in cities including San Francisco; Emeryville in the Bay Area and Seattle as examples. “We want to look at what other cities are doing so L.A. doesn’t fall behind,” said Motto. In San Francisco, large retail and fast-food companies are required to set schedules at least two weeks in advance. They must also pay extra when employees are called to work with less lead time. (See sidebar.) While LAANE isn’t currently advocating that such regulations be applied to small businesses, Stuart Waldman, president of Van Nuys-based Valley Industry Commerce Association, is skeptical. “I seriously doubt that it will end here,” he said. Waldman said that if small businesses and restaurants are eventually required to pay scheduling fees to employees, it will hinder their ability to respond to sudden changes to staff and unexpected influxes of customers. Todd Schwartz, owner of a Dickey’s Barbeque franchise in Northridge, worries that the new costs might force him to stop taking catering orders, which make up about a quarter of total sales. After Dickey’s customers place an order a few days prior to an event, a manager will then reach out to the restaurant’s employees, the majority of whom are students at California State University, Northridge, to see who is available to pick up extra hours. “I’m respectful of my student employees,” said Schwartz. “But we need to have that flexibility to offer additional shifts,” Schwartz said. Union strategy? Waldman believes that in pushing for these new rules, LAANE’s primary objective is to coerce businesses into accepting employee unions. “Labor groups know that predictive scheduling is not a real solution, which is why they will lobby for an exemption for unionized employees,” said Waldman. “This proposal is yet another example of unions bullying small businesses and pushing employers out of Los Angeles.” If union employees are exempt from scheduling rules under a new law, then employers will be faced with a choice: either accept the additional costs and scheduling limits or agree to a path to unionization, he said. Motto at LAANE said that including a union exemption in a proposed ordinance or ballot measure is “not off the table.” Labor advocates argue that some retailers’ scheduling practices burden employees. The popularity of “just-in-time” scheduling software, which updates hours based on predictions for consumer demand, has been singled out by for adding or canceling shifts at the last minute or without notice. Alec Levenson, senior research scientist at the USC Marshall School of Business, said constant shift changes can have a significant impact worker’s lives. “There is some good research that shows that when people work very erratic schedules, it makes it harder for them to sustain themselves,” he said. Unpredictable schedules limit workers’ ability to manage their lives outside of work, including taking care of family or enrolling in school, Levenson said. He added that hours for some part-time employees can vary greatly each week, making it difficult to earn a living. While cautioning against overregulation, Levenson believes that ordinances like the one passed in San Francisco pose a reasonable trade off. “As a society, we want to be thinking about what is the right way to give people the opportunity to plan their lives as employees, without making it so difficult that companies might say, ‘It’s just not worth hiring people in the first place,’” he said. Employee interaction Last year, the California Retailers Association commissioned a survey of major retailers including Macy’s and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to see how the predictive scheduling law in San Francisco has affected stores. The survey found that in addition to increasing costs and making businesses less flexible in staffing, the local ordinance has damaged store culture by affecting how managers interact with employees, because the managers fear that conversations about scheduling could be perceived as “coercive” action as defined by law. “It has made us become more rigid in our communication,” said association president Dombrowski. As a result, stores have begun offering fewer hours to part-time employees, and some workers have begun to complain. And flexibility can work both ways. Dickey’s Barbeque owner Schwartz said many of his student workers rely on flexible part-time hours. “A lot of my employees have class issues come up and often need to change a shift,” said Schwartz. Since 2015, the California Retailers Association has helped kill two bills introduced in the state legislature aimed at instituting a statewide predictive scheduling law. But if a new ordinance is passed here in Los Angeles, it’s easy to imagine state senators rekindling the effort. LAANE has no specific timeline for unveiling its preferred policy but plans to begin addressing the L.A. City Council early next month.

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