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The Seattle Restrictive Scheduling Threat

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Predictive Scheduling Push Is Unreal and Unnecessary

By Jim Szymanski, Director of Public Affairs

Unions across the country are making legislative attempts to dictate how retailers schedule their employees. Such a law passed in San Francisco and will be up for debate in Seattle this year. There’s also a pending federal bill and initiatives in about a dozen states around the country.

Put simply, what’s called predictive scheduling actually is restrictive for employers and workers. Such proposals typically require retailers to schedule employees up to three weeks ahead and face fines if they have to change posted schedules for any reason. Such scheduling is nothing more than a rigid, unworkable one-size-fits-all government intrusion into employer-employee relations that threatens far more complications and problems than benefits.

Retail workplaces are dynamic and unpredictable. Crowds ebb and flow with sales, holidays, the weather and the time of day. Demands for employees also shift as deliveries of merchandise occur, sometimes by surprise. It’s an environment that demands both understanding for the personal lives of employees and flexibility to ensure that customer demands and expectations are met.

In such an environment, predictive scheduling is out of sync with reality. A recent National Retail Federation study found that 76 percent of former retail employees and 66 percent of current retail employees took advantage of scheduling flexibility to balance demands of school, working a second job and raising a family.

Under restrictive scheduling, a manager would face a fine and be discouraged from offering hours to a mom forced to miss two days of work to care for an ill child. What manager would willingly pay a fine to address a last-minute request of a parent to attend a child’s school event or a student’s request for more hours when classes are canceled for exams?

These proposals also tend to require burdensome recordkeeping going back two and three years. This is costly and unnecessary because retailers and employees commonly adjust schedules now due to changing demands.

Such mandates are particularly harsh on small, independently-owned businesses with limited staffs. They eliminate the “give and take” between employers and employees with fines that punish small businesses least able to afford the costs. They threaten to poison morale and artificially jack up prices if fines have to be paid.

Without scheduling flexibility, such laws also threaten an erosion of customer service standards because retailers who suddenly found themselves understaffed would face a no-win situation: either pay a fine or force customers to settle for longer lines and inferior service.

As with minimum wage spikes that ignore the voice of business, restrictive scheduling is tone deaf to the way retailers operate and currently adjust to changing demands. It is an idea that elected officials should therefore reject as damaging and out-of-touch with the needs of retailers and their employees.

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