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Fair and predictable work schedules will lift up Chicago families

I fully support a new law that aims to help low-wage, hourly workers juggle unpredictable work schedules, changing shifts, childcare and other responsibilities

Ann Lightfoot, mother of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot writes that watching her mother, Ann Lighfoot (shown here), struggle to balance her work schedule with family responsibilities made her appreciate the need to create more fairness in scheduling for low-wage workers.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When I was growing up, my mom often worked the midnight shift. She had a series of low-wage jobs in the healthcare industry. She was a nurse’s aide, and she shouldered the most labor-intensive and difficult jobs in patient care.

My mom had to work. Despite the fact that my dad worked two and sometimes three jobs, we still depended on my mother’s income, meager as it was, to make ends meet.

My mother had a 30-minute commute, which required her to carpool to and from work. She organized the carpool, and I remember how difficult it was to set the schedule with the others, who were mostly women, because from one week to the next they never knew which days of the week or shifts they would be assigned to work.

The experience of my mother and her co-workers happened decades ago. But from the countless hourly workers I have talked with here in Chicago, it seems that not much has changed — especially for low-wage and part-time or underemployed workers.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot
Sun-Times files

At many companies, employers use part-time workers to fill in, increasing their schedules during busy seasons and reducing their shifts or laying them off without notice during slow periods. This means you never know which days and how many shifts you’ll be working. It makes personal income unpredictable, affecting people’s ability to pay rent and bills, and to arrange for childcare.

For all these reasons and more, I’m convinced that we need a new law to bring more fairness to scheduling practices in Chicago.

I fully support the efforts by organized labor and business community leaders and others to ensure that workers are afforded fair notice and opportunity on their work schedules. The Fair Workweek ordinance, which the City Council is considering this month, resonates deeply with me. That ordinance aims to remedy the kinds of challenges my own parents faced as low-wage, hourly workers, juggling unpredictable work schedules, changing shifts, childcare and other responsibilities.

The passage of a Fair Workweek law will improve stability in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chicago workers and their families. That’s why I’ve directed my team to bring together stakeholders from the business community, labor unions and other organizations representing the needs of working people to hammer out the final language of the ordinance and get this law adopted as quickly as possible.

I don’t mean to oversimplify the task. Yes, it has been complicated to work to craft a solution that is also fair to the array of employers who will be affected. Industries such as grocery stores, hotels, hospitals and larger restaurants, will have to make some changes to the way they schedule shift workers — and I know significant logistical challenges may come with that.

But the complexity of the task cannot be an excuse for inaction. The status quo is not working for our communities.

When I think about what it will take to get this done, I think back to my mom, driving the poorly lit, rural roads alone on her way to the midnight shift at a local hospital. I remember as a young child, being extremely fearful about my mom’s safety when she left home at night. I remember praying every night for her as she and her friends made the trek to work down those dark roads.

That memory sticks with me to this day. I know we can do better by workers here in Chicago in this day and age. That’s why I am confident that given all of the great talent that is at the table, we can reach a fair solution.

And it’s why I’m committed to using the full force of the mayor’s office to passing the Fair Work Week Ordinance that will improve conditions for workers and their families citywide at City Council this month.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.