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by Kevin Skahan
After working as a security officer for 20 years, Christy Price was hoping to retire early. But when her employer cut her hours, that hope went out the window.
Price, 60, must work 40 hours a week to qualify for her job’s 401(k) plan, but her on-call status prevents her from reaching that bar. She puts in between 32 to 36 hours, relying on unemployment to fill in the gaps, but would rather work full time.
“I have five granddaughters who look up to me,” she said, “and I am at that stage in my game where I am getting ready to retire, but being pushed out is not fair.”
Supervisor Eric Mar introduced new legislation July 29 to make life a little easier for Price and other retail workers at San Francisco’s 1,250 chain stores.
The ordinance, co-sponsored by supervisors David Chiu and John Avalos, is dubbed the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights” and will beef up protections for employees working at formula retail businesses—defined as those that have 11 or more stores nationwide.
The city attorney’s office is looking into amending the ordinance to ensure fair work schedules for contracted security officers and janitors who work at formula retail businesses, said Jane Martin, a union organizer for SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents security officers and janitors.
These protections will require employers to offer full-time hours to part-time workers before hiring more part-time workers. It also calls for predictable work schedules, job security and pay for on-call workers during the time they are expected to remain available.
“Raising the minimum wage is not enough,” Mar said as he introduced the bill on July 29, the last regular board meeting before summer recess. “We must also promote full-time employment and stable work schedules for many part-time workers.”
Mar has been working to zero in on the key issues retail workers face with his brother Gordon Mar, executive director of Jobs with Justice San Francisco. The advocacy group found that workers struggle to make ends meet primarily because they are barred from working a full-time schedule.
Part-time and no benefits
This is the first local fair scheduling ordinance and is part of a new national trend.
Recently, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, introduced the Schedules that Work Act which would introduce the same protections nationwide.
The trend of involuntary part-time status is on the rise, with 7.3 million people in November 2008 working less than 40 hours, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“A lot of chain stores and fast food restaurants have this practice of over-hiring,” Gordon Mar said. “So they hire a lot of part-time workers and keep people at part-time status to deny them benefits that are based on full-time status.”
Brian Quick couldn’t get beyond 35 hours a week at Old Navy.
“They wouldn’t give you full (hours), because they would have to give you benefits,” Quick said. “They don’t want to give you enough hours to where they have to give you anything else.”
To pay the bills, these workers often take multiple part-time jobs—a set-up for trouble if they are required to be available on an on-call basis. At one point, Julissa Hernandez was juggling three part-time jobs.
“It was super hectic,” Hernandez said. Every week her schedule would vary widely, and she would have to juggle childcare and her mother’s doctor appointments with no advance notice.
Supervisor Mar said the ordinance is designed to keep “low-road” employers like Walmart out of San Francisco, along with the practice of cutting workers’ hours to slash costs.
“When they do that, it puts a competitive pressure on those good employers,” Supervisor Mar said, and incentivizes the same cost cutting strategies which “ultimately drives down job quality at a time when inequality is at an all-time high in our city.”
Predictable schedules provide stability
If the Retail Workers Bill of Rights passes, formula retail stores will be required to post employee schedules in advance and give reasonable notice for any changes.
That means a lot to Malene Allen, whose hours at Macy’s have been changing with little notice. Allen, who has worked at the Union Square store for eight years, said even though work schedules are supposed to be issued two weeks in advance, she never knew what to expect. She has been asked to come into work with no warning at all on her day off.
“How do you have a life outside of work without a steady schedule?” Allen said.
The Board of Supervisors will begin holding public hearings on the proposed ordinance in September, but for people like Price, the ordinance can’t be passed soon enough.
Until it does, “I don’t know whether I’m going to make my rent,” she said, or “ if I’m going to be able to feed myself or be able to take care of my granddaughters or be able to take care of my children.”