Starbucks workers are among those wholl get new protections under a scheduling law that unanimously passed the Seattle City Council today.
Starbucks workers are among those who'll get new protections under a scheduling law that unanimously passed the Seattle City Council today. Sorbis/shutterstock

Ten months after fast food workers and baristas took to the streets in downtown Seattle to demand fairer scheduling practices, the Seattle City Council has approved a law giving them more control over when and how they work.

The council voted unanimously today to approve so-called "secure scheduling" legislation, which will require large food and retail businesses in the city to provide workers their schedules at least two weeks in advance and to pay workers extra when making last-minute changes to those schedules.

"This is what economic security and the demand for economic security looks like," said Council Member Lorena González. "We are shifting the power to workers."

In months of council meetings, workers have said unpredictable schedules can make it hard to know how much they'll earn and cause difficulty when it comes to balancing their work and personal lives. Along with fast food and Starbucks workers, REI workers have also complained of scheduling and pay problems (and won concessions from the company this year).

The law passed today will apply to retail stores and fast food/coffee companies with more than 500 employees or full-service restaurants with both more than 500 employees and more than 40 locations, meaning that while Starbucks and REI will be covered, some big name local restauranteurs like Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas won't have to comply. Unionized workplaces will also be exempt CLARIFICATION: Unionized workplaces will also be exempt if they bargain scheduling policies into their agreement similar to what's included in the law.

Working Washington, the labor-backed group that organized workers to push for the new law, hailed it as "the first new labor standard to address weekly work schedules since overtime laws passed in the 1930s."

Workers and union advocates pushed for the new scheduling rules, which will take effect next year.
Workers and union advocates pushed for the new scheduling rules, which will take effect next year. HG

At today's council meeting, former Starbucks barista Darrion Sjoquist, a Working Washington member who has been advocating for secure scheduling since last year, read a statement from a five-year Burger King employee who struggles with unpredictable scheduling and receives food stamps. "I'm very happy the minimum wage went up...but without enough hours, I can't survive in Seattle," Sjoquist read.

As council members also heard testimony from anti-police Block the Bunker activists, secure scheduling supporters emphasized that national and local research about unpredictable scheduling shows that the instability disproportionately affects workers of color.

Along with requiring advance notice of schedules, the law will require employers to offer extra hours to current employees before hiring new workers. It will also require "predictability pay" as compensation for schedule changes. That pay ranges from one hour of pay for a schedule change to half-time pay for the length of a shift that is canceled or must be worked on-call. Employers would be exempt from that predictability pay pay if employees voluntarily change their own schedules or if employers communicate about shifts they need picked up at the last minute through group communication (rather than by coercing individual employee into taking extra hours). Workers at large companies will be required to have at least 10 hours to rest between shifts or be paid extra for working with less time between shifts. That will affect the practice known as "clopenings," but will not stop doubles or split shifts.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: A summary of the scheduling from Council Members Lorena González and Lisa Herbold.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: A summary of the scheduling from Council Members Lorena González and Lisa Herbold. City of Seattle

In recent months, the scheduling proposal has met opposition from big business and some full-service restaurant workers who said it would limit "flexibility" in the workplace. But the momentum in city hall has long been in support of the law. Mayor Ed Murray's office met with workers and business owners before drafting the legislation, and Council Members Lisa Herbold and Lorena González led the council's work. (Despite what you may have read in the Seattle Times, this work has been ongoing for months.) Business interests appeared resigned to the outcome today, with none of them testifying during public testimony.

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The legislation will take effect next July. To make sure businesses are following the law and to educate both businesses and workers about the new requirements, Seattle will turn to its Office of Labor Standards—a 12-person office enforcing labor laws for about 500,000 workers across the city. Today, just four of those 12 staffers are investigators. So far this year, OLS investigations of possible labor law violations have taken an average of about six months each. Murray has promised to double the staff at OLS next year, but has not yet specified how he'll pay for that. When asked before today's meeting, neither González nor Herbold would answer directly whether they think doubling the number of investigators is enough or how it should be funded.

Herbold said today that the law, like the sick time and minimum wage policies that came before it, shows that Seattle is a "leader in workers' rights." San Francisco is the only other major American city to pass similar legislation.

Council Member Kshama Sawant said the policy will become "contagious in America."