Improved scheduling practices give workers more stability

Workers are the engines of the economy. Their labor, skills and contributions make the economy run, and it’s time for their hard work to result in livable wages, good benefits, and respect on the job.

This session, the Maine legislature is considering at least three bills to address the problems many Mainers face with unpredictable or unworkable schedules. Many hourly wage workers, especially those in service and retail occupations, work on schedules that vary from week to week. According to a 2019 poll commissioned by Maine Center for Economic Policy, almost half of all hourly workers in Maine have a schedule that varies from week to week. Many of these people’s schedules are dictated by their employer without their input. The weekly changes can create severe challenges for workers.

Workers with variable schedules can face a number of problems:

  • Unpredictable paychecks. If you don’t know how many hours you’ll be able to work, it’s incredibly hard to budget for ongoing expenses like rent, heating, and groceries.
  • Difficulty balancing multiple commitments. This can include working more than one job and commitments outside the workplace. Mainers who care for a child or another family member find it especially difficult to accommodate short notice schedule changes. They may also have situations where they need some flexibility from work. There are currently no guarantees that an employer consider such a request.
  • Stress for workers. This is compounded when people are scheduled for especially long shifts or to work so called “clopening” shifts — closing the store late at night and coming back just a few hours later to open it in the morning. Research finds that workers on irregular schedules experience loss of sleep, psychological distress, anxiety, and depression.

We know these practices are prevalent in Maine. According to MECEP’s 2019 poll, most workers with varying schedules get less than a week’s notice of their upcoming hours. Nearly one in five typically get less than a day’s notice.

And there’s evidence that this situation has only gotten worse as the labor market has tightened in the past few years. When stores are short on staff, they often scheduled the remaining workers for extra hours or call them last minute to fill gaps.

Two bills currently under consideration tackle the schedule issue from different angles.

  • LD 827 from Representative Amy Roeder would establish a process that allows workers to request a flexible work schedule in six-month increments. Workers would be able to account for medium term changes in their lives — for example if they have to care for a sick relative for several weeks or find themselves without child care for a period of time.
  • LD 1190 from Senator Mike Tipping would provide the greatest amount of predictability for workers. It would create a requirement for companies with at least 250 employees worldwide to provide workers with a regular schedule at the time they are hired. Employers can make changes to this regular schedule, but for short notice changes they must give the worker extra compensation to make up for the disruption. It would not interfere with a worker’s ability to request a change.

While the bills take different approaches to the issue of scheduling, each offers Maine workers some relief from the worst scheduling practices and would allow them to better balance work with the rest of their lives. Each bill deserves to be passed by lawmakers to improve the lives of Maine workers.