Why Predictable Scheduling Is Actually Key to Workers’ Rights

5 hours of sleep.

That was my norm for one year while working as a restaurant server in Washington, D.C.

I would close the restaurant at midnight, then embark on my 1.5-hour commute—hours after the metro closed—which meant I was often stranded and forced to find a ride home. 

Get home around 1:00 a.m. and get up at 6:00. I had to be back at the restaurant, starting prep work at 8:00, for another 12-hour shift.

Rinse, and repeat.

Millions of workers across the country are experiencing the same reality that I did over the course of that year. They’re forced to endure unstable work schedules that leave them little to no control over their lives. Like me, workers don’t know when they’ll be working from week to week, and last-minute shift cancellations or schedule changes can wreak havoc on their personal lives. 

In my case, the schedule that was posted was never the actual schedule for the week. Oftentimes, I would have to check with the host on the morning of a shift to see if last-minute changes had been made. Part-time workers are especially likely to experience these volatile schedules—and service sector employers often give workers fewer hours than they want and need, keeping them part-time to avoid providing benefits.

The fight for workers’ rights is tied to the fight for racial justice. Too often, workers of color are subjected to unfair and unstable work schedules that keep them in a perpetual cycle of poverty. People of color—especially women of color—working in retail and food service jobs are more likely than their white counterparts to get fewer hours than they want, to have short notice of their work schedules, and to experience last-minute shift changes.

That’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass the Schedules That Work Act and the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights. The Schedules That Work Act would provide restaurant workers and other workers who often experience unpredictable hours with the basic protections they need, including two weeks’ advance notice of work schedules and compensation for last-minute changes or cancellations. For all workers, this bill would require 11 hours of rest between shifts or extra pay if someone agrees to work with a shorter break—something that would have had a huge impact on my life when I was working “clopening” shifts. And the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights would require employers to treat part-time workers fairly, expanding access to benefits (and to full-time hours for workers who want them).  

8 hours of sleep.

That’s my norm now, and it should be the norm for all workers in this country. We need laws that protect workers on the job, and let them thrive off the job, too.

No one should have to sacrifice their well-being and personal lives just to make ends meet. The service industry is one of the most vital industries in our society, and the workers who make it function deserve basic protection and respect. It’s time for Congress to take action and ensure that all workers have the right to a work schedule that works for them. Millions of workers across the country depend on it.