Aldermen, labor renew push for fair work week ordinance

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Ald. Ameya Pawar. | Sun-Times files

Armed with a new study that shows the devastating impact of “just-in-time scheduling,” a coalition of alderman and union leaders on Thursday made a renewed push for a “fair work-week” they called a “basic human rights issue.”

The City Council has approved three ordinances over the last five years aimed at confronting income inequality in Chicago.

They are: the anti-wage theft ordinance of 2013; the 2014 ordinance that raised Chicago’s minimum wage to $13-an-hour by 2019 and the ordinance mandating companies large and small – with the exception of construction companies – to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days each year.

But until workers have stable schedules — or guaranteed compensation if they don’t — the City Council’s “work is not done,” according to retiring Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).

Pawar pointed to a survey of 1,700 workers across the state, 44 percent of them in Chicago, conducted by the University of Illinois and Penn State University.

One of every five hourly workers reported being scheduled for on-call shifts “regularly or often.”

RELATED: Alderman proposes Chicago Office of Labor Standards

Thirty-five percent of all workers have less than one week’s advance notice of their schedule, with 22 percent having three days or fewer notice. More than 25 percent of those surveyed are required to keep their schedules “open” with no guarantee of work.

Nearly 20 percent receive their work schedules, only after traveling to their workplaces.

“Imagine what it’s like not knowing whether you have to work in two hours. Imagine what it’s like not knowing what your schedule is like until the day before the week begins. Imagine what it’s like not knowing how you would arrange for child care if you’re working 12-to-8 on one day and 7-to-3 the next,” Pawar told a City Hall news conference.

“This is a basic human rights issue. Just as we raised wages, just as we guaranteed protections so they can call in sick, this is yet another protection we need to provide as the economy has changed dramatically [and] as employers rely increasingly on technology….Their lives should not be subject to the whims of an algorithm.”

Teresa Ramirez, a union representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, told a gut-wrenching story of a single mom on a scheduling string who was reduced to tears because she couldn’t attend the ceremony where her son was recognized for being an honor student.

“Not only that. She can’t be involved in her kid’s life. He’s in sports. She can’t commit to that. She may go. She may not go. Field trips at school. Even herself. She couldn’t finish her school because…she doesn’t know if they’re gonna call her,” Ramirez said.

“Her life is on hold for this. She needs the money to pay her rent….[But] she’ll get two hours notice. Sometimes, [they’ll say], ‘Could you come in right now as soon as possible.’ She doesn’t know if she’s coming or going.”

The ordinance introduced last summer and buried in Rules Committee would require Chicago employers to give workers two weeks notice of their work schedules and compensation for last-minute shift changes. Exceptions would be made for weather emergencies, equipment breakdowns or other disasters.

Part-time workers would get the opportunity to work additional hours before new staff is hired.

Pawar likes the chances for passage with 17 co-signers, the mayoral and aldermanic election fast approaching and pressure mounting on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appease progressive voters.

But Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia urged the aldermen to go slow.

“With the minimum wage and property taxes going up and paid sick leave, too many mandates have been put on small business in the city. If we had another mandate, it would be devastating,” he said.

Toia argued that restaurants need flexible scheduling to avoid “massive hits to their bottom lines” caused by “weather, high-low demand pressures and other conditions not under a restaurant’s control.”

“The weather in Chicago changes at the drop of a dime. We love our nice weather. But what if we have people scheduled to work an outdoor café and it rains?” Toia said.

“We also love our sports. But, how can you schedule somebody to work two weeks out when you don’t know how deep the Cubs or the Hawks are gonna go into the playoffs?”

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