An employee at a company is not simply a worker: she is also a person trying to live a full life. We all have responsibilities. We have school and second jobs. We have parents, children, and partners who rely on us. We have physical and mental health needs. We have bills to pay. It can be difficult to juggle all of these demands on our time, but luckily many of us have the tools we need to arrange our lives so that we can provide for ourselves and loved ones. Everyone needs this kind of control over our time and priorities, so why are low-wage workers so often forced to schedule their lives as if they were only workers and not also parents, students, caretakers, and people?

The Cost of Schedules That Don’t Work

This summer I’ve heard heartbreaking and shocking stories from workers across the country whose schedules don’t work. They get their schedules with almost no notice, have walked miles to work only to be sent home with no work or pay for that day, have called in to see if they were working that day, or have gone to work sick out of fear of being punished or fired for missing work. These kinds of scheduling practices would put a strain on anyone’s life, but can become completely unmanageable for those workers who are trying to go to school, struggling to pay bills, managing a chronic illness, or are caring for a child or elderly family member.  

These scheduling practices are clearly unjust, but unfortunately they’re not rare. 41% percent of early career hourly workers (ages 26-32) get their schedule a week or less in advance, meaning that they have to scramble and rearrange their lives to fit their work schedule. Women are especially vulnerable to these abuses as they now make up two-thirds of low-wage workers. Women are also more likely to be the primary caregivers for children or other family members and are often breadwinners or co-breadwinners. Meaning that unfair scheduling practices harm not just them, but their families as well.

Fair Schedules Work For Businesses Too

Some opponents claim that making employers treat their employees fairly will force business to cut jobs. The truth is that many businesses who have voluntarily adopted fair scheduling practices say that couldn’t be happier with their decision, and that it’s actually saving them money (PDF). That’s because when employees are treated with respect and understanding they are more likely to stay longer and work harder.

What We Need To Do

On Capitol Hill this week Gaby Madriz, the Director of the Restaurant Opportunity Center of DC, called on employers to “stop treating employees like commodities and start treating them like people.” In order to do that, we need Congress to address some of the most common and abusive scheduling practices by passing the Schedules That Work Act, which would require employers to pay a premium if they engage in those practices.

While the fight for federal protections continues, increased media attention and advocacy have also successfully pressured individual businesses, like Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret, into adopting fairer scheduling policies. And, after the initial introduction of the federal bill last year, 10 states introduced similar bills, and San Francisco’s Retail Workers Bill of Rights was passed.  This momentum is paving the way to comprehensive protections for employees nationwide, so let’s keep up the fight!

We all rely on workers every day to keep our day (and our economy) running smoothly. It’s time that we join low-wage workers in their fight for fair wages, fair schedules, and respect. The Schedules That Work Act helps workers take control over their lives, helps businesses build a dedicated and happy workforce, and it’s just the right thing to do.