Imagine this scenario: You work at a large, national retail chain and on any given week, your schedule is subject to change, set at the discretion of your employer.
Last week, you worked the closing shift on Sunday, the opening shift on Monday, a half-shift from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and a double on Friday. The week before, you were only given two shifts — one Saturday and one Wednesday, and neither one a full eight hours. Today, you’re waiting to see what your schedule is going to be for the next week, but your boss has told you that you need to be available even on the days you’re not scheduled, just in case you’re needed — he’ll call you the night before to let you know.
Now ask yourself: Would you be able to stick to a budget if you didn’t know whether you’d work eight hours or 36 in a given week? Would you be able to schedule dependable child care at a moment’s notice, or make regular doctor’s appointments?
Maybe you’d try to get a second job or enroll in night classes to improve your prospects. But you’d have a hard time doing either one because on any given week or month, you can’t commit that you’ll be available.
Anyone in that situation would find it nearly impossible to juggle their responsibilities outside the workplace under these working conditions.
But this is the reality for one in five Mainers — 128,000 people in our state — who are subject to scheduling volatility. Half those people, or one in 10 Mainers, receive a day’s or less notice of their work schedules. [i] Low-wage workers in retail, hospitality, and the restaurant industry are most likely to face this kind of “just-in-time” scheduling.[ii]
A bill before the Maine Legislature — LD 1345, “An Act to Ensure a Fair Workweek” — would empower those Mainers to take care of themselves, their families, and their household budgets by guaranteeing two weeks’ notice of work schedules, and by compensating them fairly for last-minute shift changes that can throw their lives out of balance. The Legislature should enact the bill.
Multiple studies have shown that workers facing this sort of volatility in the workplace have serious difficulties balancing work and home life.[iii] And children often pay a unique price for their parents’ irregular work. Unpredictable schedules put stress on parents and are linked to behavioral problems and worse performance in school for their kids.[iv] Toddlers whose mothers’ work irregular hours have developmental delays and preschoolers are more likely to show negative behavior.
It’s little wonder why; Finding affordable child care is difficult enough under the best of circumstances. It’s almost impossible to do so at the last minute. Working an unpredictable schedule also means parents can’t access high-quality child care centers, which usually require regular pick-up and drop-off times. Parents with irregular schedules find it harder to spend quality time with their children, whether that’s helping them with homework or just spending time together.
The Fair Workweek will make it easier for parents to take care of their kids and improve their children’s outcomes in the near and long term. It also will improve Mainers’ economic well-being.
Irregular schedules mean irregular incomes. Unpredictable schedules are often paired with low wages, creating a one-two punch that hits workers hard. Nationally, two-thirds of Americans working unpredictable schedules earn less than $40,000 a year, and one-third earns less than $22,500 annually.[v] Surveys of workers with unpredictable schedules find that large numbers experience financial hardship — including food insecurity, trouble making rent, missing a utility payment, and skipping medical care because they can’t afford it.[vi]
Mainers are more likely than most Americans to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.[vii] But when your primary job posts or changes your schedule with little notice, it can be impossible to obtain additional employment. Predictable schedules will make it easier for workers with low incomes to take another job, if necessary, to make ends meet.
It’s also important to note that fair scheduling isn’t just good for employees; It’s good for businesses’ bottom line too.
In a study of employees at The Gap, greater scheduling predictability improved productivity, sales, and revenue.[viii] Other research has shown that improving scheduling predictability reduces employee turnover, a major cost for businesses.[ix]
LD 1345 would make a real difference for working families. Reliable, predictable schedules would make it easier for workers to balance their commitments in and out of the workplace, care for their families, and create and stick to a budget. It doesn’t tie employers’ hands or impose onerous restrictions on their ability to manage their staff. It simply asks them to plan ahead for the sake of their employees’ well-being and their own.
For the sake of Maine’s workers and families, policymakers should enact LD 1345. You can help by writing your legislators and urging them to guarantee a fair workweek in Maine.
[i] MECEP analysis of US Federal Reserve, Survey of Household Economics and Decision-Making 2016-17, 2-year average.
[ii] Laurie Golden, “Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences,” Economic Policy Institute, Apr 9, 2015. Web. Available at https://www.epi.org/publication/irregular-work-scheduling-and-its-consequences/
[iii] See, for example, Julia Henley & Susan Lambert, “Unpredictable Work Timing In Retail Jobs: Implications For Employee Work–Life Conflict.” ILR Review 67, no. 3 (2014): 986-1016; and Daniel Schneider & Kristen Harknett, “Consequences of Routine Work-Schedule Instability for Worker Health and Well-Being.” American Sociological Review 84, no. 1 (February 2019): 82–114.
[iv] National Women’s Law Center. Why Fair Schedules are Critical for Working Parents and Their Well-Being, April 2017. Web. Available at https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/New-Set-Up-For-Success-Why-Fair-Schedules-Are-Critical-for-Working-Parents-and-Their-Childrens-Well-Being.pdf
[v] Leila Morsy & Richard Rothstein, “Parents’ Non-Standard Work Schedules Make Adequate Childrearing Difficult,” Economic Policy Institute, Aug 6, 2015. Web. Available at https://www.epi.org/publication/parents-non-standard-work-schedules-make-adequate-childrearing-difficult-reforming-labor-market-practices-can-improve-childrens-cognitive-and-behavioral-outcomes/
[vi] Joan Williams et al., “Stable Scheduling Study: Health Outcomes Report,” Worklife Law, Feb 2019. Web. Available at https://worklifelaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Stable-Scheduling-Health-Outcomes-Report.pdf; and Harold Stolper, “Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers from Getting Ahead,” Community Service Society, Dec 19, 2016. Web. Available at
http://lghttp.58547.nexcesscdn.net/803F44A/images/nycss/images/uploads/pubs/Scheduling_12_19_16_Final_Web.pdf ; and Ari Schwartz et al., “Unpredicatble, Unsustainable: The Impact of Employers’ Scheduling Practices in D.C.” DC Jobs With Justice, June 2015. Web. Avaialbe at https://www.dcjwj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/DCJWJ_Scheduling_Report_2015.pdf
[vii] Maine Center for Economic Policy, State of Working Maine 2018. Nov 2018. Web. Available at https://www.mecep.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/State-of-Working-Maine-2018.pdf
[viii] Joan Williams et al., “Stable Scheduling Study: Health Outcomes Report,” Worklife Law, Feb 2019. Web. Available at https://worklifelaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Stable-Scheduling-Health-Outcomes-Report.pdf
[ix] Julia Henley & Susan Lambert, “Unpredictable Work Timing In Retail Jobs: Implications For Employee Work–Life Conflict.” ILR Review 67, no. 3 (2014): 986-1016