Making America work for working people


By Sarita Gupta



This Labor Day, remember the millions of Americans who don’t know the next time they’ll get called in to their jobs.

For millions of working parents like me, the juggling act between our homes and offices gets even more frantic as our kids head back to school.

My daughter just started kindergarten. Some days, I’m proud of how my husband and I manage the demands of our jobs while also taking care of her and my parents. Other days, life happens — the train’s late, a deadline surfaces, a meeting gets rescheduled ­— and it all falls apart.

This Labor Day, I’m grateful that I’ll be able to spend time with my family and take a break from the demands of this time of year. But I’ll also be thinking about the working people across the country who don’t know the next time they’ll actually be working.

Roughly 17 percent of employees today are tapped out by the erratic scheduling demands of their employers. Increasingly, the women and men who serve our food, help us pick out shoes, stock our shelves, and sweep our floors have jobs that grant too few hours on too short notice, requiring them to be at the beck and call of their employers.

That makes it nearly impossible for working people to create budgets and plan their lives.

In a survey my organization conducted this spring, nearly half of the Washington, D.C. restaurant, retail, and other service-industry employees we talked to reported first learning about their work schedules less than one week in advance. A third of them got less than three days’ notice.

Many employers — including corporations like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart — use these unfair scheduling systems to keep their employees on part-time schedules so they can avoid paying benefits. If that weren’t bad enough, it also puts these men and women in a constant state of uncertainty.

When you don’t know when you’re going to be called into work or for how long, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, taking the car in for repairs, or going to church often has to be put on hold. And life’s day-to-day activities — commuting, arranging for child care, preparing meals ­— become overly complicated.

Thankfully, people are starting to recognize and address these abusive practices.

Last year, a coalition of working people, labor unions, and community groups persuaded the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to enact the first meaningful standards in the nation to ensure that more people get fair and consistent schedules.

The new rule, which could impact as many as 40,000 individuals, requires highly profitable chain stores to post schedules two weeks in advance. And it ensures that people are compensated if last-minute changes like shift cancelations are made by their employers.

Who’s next? Communities from Minneapolis and Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. are considering similar reforms to make sure more people have reliable schedules with enough hours to plan their lives and take care of their loved ones.

In the last year, we’ve seen city after city do the right thing and boost their minimum wages. It’s a great first step, but better hourly pay is only part of what people need to sustain their families. They also deserve stable hours and predictable schedules.

If you’ve got this Labor Day off, remember your friends and neighbors who are spending the day at work, who scrambled to find child care that morning, and who don’t know if they’re scheduled for enough hours to pay this month’s bills.

It’s time to make America work for everyone who works for a living.

By Sarita Gupta

Sarita Gupta is the Executive Director of Jobs With Justice and the Co-Director of Caring Across Generations.

Sarita Gupta is the Executive Director of Jobs With Justice and the Co-Director of Caring Across Generations.

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