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Working Parents Need Schedules That Work

Among the (empty) promises President Trump has made, improving access to affordable child care is one with near-universal appeal. If you are a working parent—heck, if you know a working parent—you’re probably aware that child care costs today are astronomical, and many families have trouble finding care that they can afford and trust will help their children thrive.

But if you’re a working parent in a low-wage job, the care you want and need for your children is especially likely to be out of reach—and not just because of the cost; your work schedule is often to blame, too. Millions of people working in retail, food service, and other low-wage industries—most of whom are women—have little to no input into their work schedules and don’t know when they will need to report to work until a few days (or even a few hours) before their scheduled shifts. Their schedules also often involve work hours that vary wildly from week to week and include shifts in the evening, early morning, or on weekends.

These unpredictable and unstable scheduling practices undermine working people’s best efforts to meet their obligations at work and address the most critical responsibilities in the rest of their lives—including caring for their families, holding down a second part-time job to make ends meet, going to school, or addressing their own medical needs. And they make it especially hard for working parents to secure reliable child care. When schedules and incomes fluctuate week to week, parents often must cobble together child care from friends and family at the last minute; paying to hold a spot at the kind of high-quality center that many parents would prefer is prohibitively expensive. But if their child care arrangements fall through, parents miss work and lose pay. Their children pay a price, too: low wages and other work conditions that increase parents’ stress, including unstable and unpredictable work hours, can undermine children’s wellbeing while making it harder for them to access the high-quality child care that would provide needed stability and help prepare them for school.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem. The president has not proposed any of them—but Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Schedules That Work Act, a bill that could make a big difference for parents with young children and many other working people who are struggling to meet their responsibilities both on and off the job.

The Schedules That Work Act would:

  • Give employees the right to request a change in their work schedules without risking retaliation.
  • Give working people who need a schedule change because of critical obligations, like caregiving, a right to receive that change if there’s no good business reason not to grant the request.
  • Require employers in certain low-wage industries to provide two weeks’ notice of work schedules—and to provide extra pay to hourly employees who have shifts changed or added at the last minute, or are sent home without working their scheduled shifts.

These basic but vital protections would begin to provide working people with a voice in their work schedules as well as more predictability and stability. More consistent hours and advance notice of schedules also make it easier for employees to secure stable child care and arrange transportation so that they can consistently be and stay at work—in turn creating stability, predictability, and cost savings for businesses. It should come as no surprise that these common-sense policies enjoy broad public support: polling shows that seven in ten Americans believe that employers should provide two weeks’ advance notice of schedules to fast food and retail employees, and in a recent focus group of working class parents in Ohio convened by the conservative Institute for Family Studies, all of the participants (most of whom voted for Trump) expressed support for the Schedules That Work Act as a measure that would make a meaningful difference in their lives and “make[] bigger companies…show courtesy to their employees.”

A number of cities—including Seattle, San Francisco, Emeryville, San Jose, and New York City—have already passed fair scheduling laws, and more than a dozen states have recently introduced similar legislation. But whether you can count on fair treatment from your employer shouldn’t depend on where you live. It’s time for working parents—and all working people—to have work schedules that work for their lives. It’s time for the Schedules That Work Act.