The city council wants to make large companies like Starbucks give their workers more predictability in their schedules.
The city council wants to make large companies like Starbucks give their workers more predictability in their schedules. SORBIS/SHUTTERSTOCK

A little more than two years after Seattle passed a landmark increase in the minimum wage, worker advocates are declaring victory again.

Mayor Ed Murray's office has released new legislation that, if passed by the Seattle City Council, will give hourly workers at large companies more advance notice of their schedules and pay them extra for being required to work on call or so-called "clopening" shifts.

"Seattle will once again lead the conversation on how to respond to inequality," Murray said in a statement, "by proposing new, innovative policy solutions that help workers and employers create healthier and more equitable workplaces."

The bill comes after months of worker organizing, mostly led by the union-funded group Working Washington, city council discussions, and a stakeholder group convened by Murray's office. Workers have described how not knowing when they'll be scheduled to work can make it hard to go back to school or get a second job and how not knowing how many hours they'll get per week can make it hard to budget.

The proposed law (outlined here) would apply to hourly workers at fast food restaurants (including Starbucks) or retail stores with more than 500 employees as well as full-service restaurants with both more than 40 locations worldwide and more than 500 employees.

To try to ensure workers get enough hours, the law will require an employer to offer current workers extra hours before hiring new employees. (The law includes some exceptions for seasonal hiring.) Employers will also be required to provide workers a written estimate of how many hours they should expect to receive.

To address unpredictability, employers would be required to give workers two weeks advance notice of their schedules. They would also have to pay workers "predictability pay" if their schedule is changed at the last minute, they are required to be on call, or they work two shifts without at least 10 hours between the shifts. (The extra pay ranges from an hour of pay for a schedule change to half-time pay for the length of a shift that is canceled or on-call.)

The new rules would not apply to any shift swaps workers mutually agree to or any schedule changes employees make voluntarily.

Employers would be required to keep records of all this on hand for three years, and the city would conduct an evaluation of the policy 6 months, 18 months, and two years after it takes effect.

Working Washington is already celebrating. Executive Director Sejal Parikh said the law will "ensure tens of thousands of Seattle workers have the balance, flexibility, and power it takes to care for your family, contribute to your community, and build a better future." Spokesperson Sage Wilson said the group will now work to make sure the ordinance isn't watered down by business opposition. In a statement about the policy, the Washington Restaurant Association was vague, praising "some positive progress," but saying, "we still believe there is work to be done."

One downer before you get too excited about the proposal: Even if it passes in its current form, the scheduling law will, of course, only be effective if employers follow it. Yet the office responsible for handling the enforcement of this very complicated law—and the city's other complicated labor laws—is understaffed. Today, the Office of Labor Standards has just four investigators and it takes an average of six months to resolve an investigation. One case of workers in West Seattle allegedly not being paid the proper minimum wage has been going on for more than a year and remains unresolved.

Murray has promised to double the size of the office in this fall's budget, bringing the total number of investigators to nine. That will help, but will it be enough to handle another complex law on the books? We'll have to wait and see.

A city council committee will discuss the scheduling legislation today at 9:30 a.m. and hold a public hearing August 16 at 6 p.m. The bill is expected to get a full council vote in September.