By: Elizabeth Johnston, FellowPosted on November 18, 2014 Issues: Fair Work Schedules Workplace

Today is my little brother’s birthday. It’s a big birthday, but not for good reasons. Today, TJ turns 26, which means that he can no longer be on my parents’ health insurance. He works as a bartender at a few different places and does not have health insurance through his employer. Last week, he and I sat down to figure out what plan he should sign up for on the healthcare exchange. And things got complicated.

Because TJ’s shifts and hours change with such frequency, he has a really hard time budgeting. He could not tell me for sure how much he could afford to pay for health insurance in any given month. He couldn’t tell me which subsidies he might qualify for. This type of instability is a common problem for workers in low-wage hourly jobs. In one study [PDF], between 20 and 30 percent of low-wage workers reported a reduction in hours or a layoff when work was slow. And another found [PDF] that for 59 percent of retail employees employed by one major retailer, either the shifts or the days they worked changed each week.

And women make up two-thirds of low-wage workers. The fallout from challenging work schedules goes way beyond health insurance for these workers. Unlike TJ, many of them are dealing with significant responsibilities outside their job, including caregiving, pursing education and workforce training, or holding down a second job. Fluctuating hours affects their ability to succeed at work and in life. Caregivers are hit particularly hard: low-wage workers’ ability to access quality, affordable, and stable child care is compromised by challenging work schedules.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When workers have a say in their schedules employers and employees both benefit [PDF]. The Schedules That Work Act responds to employees’ needs for a voice in their work schedules, and more predictable and stable schedules. The bill will promote the health and well-being of America’s working families, and it will help my brother plan for his future. That is why today workers are speaking up and letting us know that they need Schedules That Work!

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that my little brother can have health insurance, but now I just wish we knew whether he could make it to dinner!