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06

The New Threat of Predictable Scheduling Proposals

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What's 'fair' about a work-scheduling bill that hurts employees and businesses?

By Michael Saltsman

The City Council’s resolution for 2017 appears to be more red tape and fewer job opportunities in the Big Apple. That’s the net effect of new "Fair Work Week" legislation that would impose union-style work rules on fast-food businesses.

New York City has become a laboratory for the left, and the city boasts a bewildering array of different wage and benefit requirements, depending on your location, business size, and industry. This new bill would require, among other provisions, employers to announce work schedules two weeks in advance, with monetary penalties for any subsequent changes to employees’ schedules.

You can’t run a pretzel stand like this, much less a large restaurant or department store. Imagine an ice-cream store in midtown faced with an all-day rainstorm during the middle of peak tourist season in the summer. A work schedule created two weeks earlier could not have anticipated the corresponding steep drop in customers. No matter: With this legislation, the business is on the hook to pay employees it might not even need.

New York City is one of only a handful of locales to seriously consider such a law. The evidence from San Francisco, the first city to embrace it, reveals predictable consequences. A survey of affected businesses, conducted by Lloyd Corder of Corcom Inc., found that 20% had cut back on the number of part-time hires, and a similar number were scheduling fewer employees per shift. More than one-third of affected employers were offering less schedule flexibility as a consequence.

The Washington Post reported that employees were not pleased to discover "the law discourages employers from offering extra shifts on short notice, because they would have to pay the last-minute schedule change penalty—even if workers would be happy for the chance to pick up more hours.”

There’s a cruel irony here: economist Aaron Yelowitz of the University of Kentucky estimated that just 13.9% of the affected part-timers at San Francisco's formula retail establishments were working their schedule involuntarily prior to the law. In other words, part-time employees who sought their jobs for the flexibility they offered were now losing it. In New York City, the numbers are even more striking: Just one in 10 part-time fast food employees is estimated to be working the job involuntarily.

For the labor unions supporting this bill, the reduction in part-time employment is a feature rather than a bug. Nine in 10 union members are full-time, and labor unions understand that they’re less likely to organize a workplace with a part-time staff that turns over frequently.

Of course, they’re also willing to be creative: The scheduling bill in New York City was introduced with separate legislation that mandates employers to collect and remit employee payments to union-like organizations, even if the workplace is nonunion.

New York City’s part-time workforce is already under attack by a crushing $15 wage mandate that will force employers to embrace automation or close entirely. They can’t handle another hit: Youth unemployment in some of the city’s boroughs is far above the national average, including a staggering 40% in the Bronx.

Washington, D.C., retreated from a similar proposal earlier this year, after legislators heard from the city’s businesses about its harmful impact. As New York City Council members consider this legislation, they should remember that they’ve been elected to serve the city—not their deep-pocketed union donors.

Michael Saltsman is research director at the Employment Policies Institute, which receives support from businesses, foundations, and individuals.

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