Thoughtful scheduling, legislating both needed
Oregon labor’s highest priority for the 2017 Legislature, the predictive scheduling mandate embodied in Senate Bill 828, contains the seed of a good idea. Unfortunately, it buries that seed in a tangle of compliance and enforcement mandates, serving to expand unreasonable government reach.
If lawmakers can strip away enough oppressive overburden, they might achieve something. If not, they risk suffocating the entrepreneurial engine driving economic growth in Oregon.
Like the $15 minimum wage, predictive scheduling germinated in the fertile liberalism of Seattle. It requires affected employers to develop and post schedules two weeks ahead, take into account employee requests, offer additional hours to existing workers before hiring new part-timers, allow at least 10 hours off between shifts, compensate employees for on-call dictates and last-minute changes, keep records documenting compliance and face penalties for violations.
To go into effect July 1, Seattle’s version largely represents a reaction to the arbitrary and exploitative practices of Starbucks, the city’s homegrown coffee giant.
The food-service and retailing sectors tend to employ a largely low-paid, part-time, non-union workforce — one in which women, teens and minorities are over-represented and under-protected. And the chain operators dominating these sectors tend to be the most egregious offenders.
They impose work schedules with little notice, regularity or individual consideration, and change them at will, even in mid-shift. The aim is to minimize employer expense — short term by keeping hours down and long term by avoiding full-time jobs entailing fringe benefits — while maximizing employer flexibility.
But what is good for the employer is not always beneficial for the employee.
Many employees are juggling childcare needs, college classes, transportation limitations and other issues, making inconsistent schedules and income highly problematic. Others are free to work full time, and would dearly love to, but are routinely thwarted.
The Seattle measure focuses on retail and fast-food operators with more than 500 employees worldwide, and sit-down restaurant operators with more than 500 employees and 40 locations worldwide, even if franchised to individual owners. It exempts smaller operators completely and regional and national operators in other sectors. It thus spares some industries with a lot of seasonal and part-time workers — like construction and nursery, where weather plays havoc with scheduling — and the legion of mom-and-pop operators least able to assume new regulatory and recordkeeping burdens.
Not so with SB 828, which counts one Republican among 21 sponsors. In addition to adding hospitality to its target sectors, it would require all employers, regardless of size or type, to consider personal scheduling needs in hiring and employment, and maintain documentation for three years. Failure to supply records upon challenge would trigger a default judgment.
That has prompted locals like Great Harvest Bread and Morris Carpet to sound the alarm in Salem, joining champions of locally prominent construction, nursery and tourism interests.
Democrats like to think the answer lies in more government regulation, Republicans in greater free-market rein. We like to think it lies somewhere between, and SB 828 demands a return to some reasonable approximation of that point. As written, it’s untenable.