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An Immigrant Mom on Why We Need Schedules That Work

A decade ago, Tasnima emigrated from Bangladesh to the United States. For almost nine years, she’s been working for a national fast food franchise in an Atlanta suburb. As one of the more than 21.6 million people working in low-wage jobs in this country, unpredictable and unfair scheduling has had a huge impact on her day-to-day life. I spoke with Tasnima about the fight for fair work schedules, and what legislation like the Schedules that Work Act would mean for her.

Q: What kind of work do you do at your job?

I work in food service. Since I’ve worked for this same chain for the past almost nine years, I have had different responsibilities over time. These days I close and open the store, and prepare food, like baking cookies.

Q: How many hours do you work in a week?

The store I work for is a franchise, and I work for two different locations. When I was hired at the first location, I wanted full-time work. They told me to not worry about getting enough hours, and they’d give me more hours. They hired me at $7.50 an hour, and after two years raised my wages to $7.75, but they never did give me more hours. The most I would get in a week would be 30-34 hours, and that varied a lot from week-to-week; I usually worked a lot fewer hours than that. Out of eight employees in the store, only one is full time. Instead of giving me more hours, they always hired on more part-time workers. The weeks where I get enough hours, they cut my hours the following week so I never get ahead.

Because of this, I had to get a job at a second location for the same franchise so that I could get a full forty hours of work – about 20 hours at the first job, and 20 hours at the second job.

Q: Is it hard to have to balance the two part-time jobs?

Yes – the second location for the job is a forty minute drive away from where I live. Because my schedule isn’t consistent at the locations, it also means that I have to work seven days a week just to get a full 40 hours of work.

Q: The Schedules that Work Act would require that nonexempt workers in retail, restaurants, and cleaning jobs—workers like you–would get advance notice of their work schedules. How much notice do you get for your work schedule right now?

The work week is scheduled from Wednesday through the following Tuesday, and the schedules are not posted in advance. I’ll usually get my schedule 2 to 3 days in advance, but sometimes I find out the night before that I have to work the next day via a text from my manager. This means I have to go into work the following morning for my shift in order to find out my schedule for the rest of the week.

I got the job at the second location because I also wanted to work more opening shifts. These usually last from 11 am to 4 pm. Sometimes, I’ll show up to open at 11 am, expecting to only work my five-hour shift, and the manager will tell me that I’ll have to close the store that day. That means I’ll have to stay working until 10:30 pm or so without notice.

Q: How does it affect your life when you don’t get notice ahead of time about your work shifts?

I have diabetes and other health conditions, and when I get shifts at the last minute, it means I have to reschedule and cancel doctor’s appointments that I need to take care of my health. When I can’t plan ahead of time or when I have to cancel my appointments, it means I have to go awhile without seeing the doctor. Up until recently, my son and I shared a car, which also meant I’d have to wait until his work schedule aligned with mine to go to the doctor.

Also, I have arthritis and back problems. My old manager used to watch the surveillance videos to discourage us from sitting, even with better managers now, there still are not stools behind the counter. This makes working long shifts without notice especially difficult and painful, because standing for the majority of 11+ hour shifts makes my back pain worse. When I know ahead of time that my shift is going to be that long, I can take ibuprofen to prepare.

Another issue when I get long shifts without warning is that it sometimes it means my son can’t pick me up from work. He used to work a job at night too, and we shared one car, so when my schedule changed at the last minute, that meant I would miss out on my ride and I would have to walk home at night, which I didn’t like doing.

When I first started my job at one of the franchise locations, I was also taking an ESL (English as a Second Language) class two days a week. Sometimes they’d change my schedule last-minute and I’d have to miss my classes, even when I tried to plan around them. The instructors were understanding, but I wish I didn’t have to miss the classes.

Q: Another part of the Schedules that Work Act is reporting time pay – that means that an employee in a retail, restaurant, or cleaning job is sent home early without being able to complete their shift, they’d be paid for four hours or the length of their shift – whichever is less. Are you ever sent home early into your shift without pay?

That used to happen to me at the first location I was at. When it wasn’t busy, the manager would send people home. That meant you’d lose those hours and wouldn’t get paid for your full shift, even though you were counting on being paid that money. When I was sent home early, it would make it really difficult, because it is hard not to depend on a stable income from week-to-week.

Q: How would having a more fair and stable work schedule affect your life? 

Right now, it’s really difficult to plan for things like birthday celebrations and family gatherings, which are really important to me. I love to cook for big family gatherings, but I’m always anxious that it will turn out last minute we’ll have to cancel or that I can’t go because of my work schedule. Sometimes we’ll plan things like birthday celebrations or holiday dinners, and I’ll have to miss it because it turns out that I have to work. If I had a more stable schedule that I received in advance, I wouldn’t have to miss important family events as much, and could have more peace-of-mind.

I also work with a lot of younger immigrant kids. For them, the work schedules make it hard for them to attend school. If we had more stable schedules, it would be easier for them to get an education.

Better work schedules also would relieve a lot of stress. Right now, my schedule at one of my jobs is more consistent, with 20 hours, but at the other job it’s less consistent and I tried to fight them for more of a fixed schedule. When they hired me, they said they’d just have me mostly work mornings, but as soon as the first week, they were scheduling me to work closing shifts.

When I worked at the previous location, the schedules between my two jobs would conflict, and that also made it harder to have a full-time work schedule. If I had received a more consistent schedule in advance, it would have taken away a lot of that stress.

Right now, when I want even a day off, it is difficult and requires plenty of advance notice, but if my employer decides they want me to work, they can change everything on the day-of. It’s not a fair way of doing things. We’re low-income people, and we put up with things because we need the jobs and the money, so we have to listen to their schedule. They hire immigrants because they know we won’t complain, and that lets them mistreat us. I want to write the people in charge to tell them, listen, this is not a fair way to treat workers. It needs to change.

 

Tasnima is a mom of three kids, and she likes to explore different cultures and cook. She also enjoys giving back and volunteering, and wishes she has more time to spend volunteering and working with young people. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.