Two Washington state legislators argue for secure scheduling.
Two Washington state legislators argue for a statewide secure scheduling law. Landscape and nature photographer / Getty Images

April Frazier has been a server at Olive Garden in Olympia for 13 years. But despite that long tenure, she only gets her weekly work schedule four days before it starts. As she explained in testimony before us in the state legislature earlier this year, on any given Thursday, April might have to scramble to adjust her entire family’s schedule around the shifts she’s working on the week starting Monday.

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April’s family is a priority for her. She helps care for her nephew, who is on an organ transplant list. He has frequent appointments she needs to be there for, but it’s almost impossible to try and get doctors to reschedule appointments at the last minute when her work schedule suddenly changes.

What’s not impossible is for her employer and other big food and retail chains to provide workers like April with a balanced and flexible schedule, including two weeks’ notice and a say in when she’s going to work and how many hours she’s going to get.

We know secure scheduling is possible because it’s already happening at the Yard House & and Capital Grille in Seattle — which are owned by the same company that owns Olive Garden — and other large restaurant & and retail chains in Seattle.

In 2016, workers in the city of Seattle won protections against abusive scheduling for employees of large food service and retail chains. But outside Seattle, large employers such as McDonald’s, Olive Garden, and Target burden workers like April with erratic schedules and deny them the hours they need to make ends meet. As a new national survey illustrates, these scheduling practices foster economic insecurity — particularly for workers of color — and can harm families for generations.

The problem of last-minute scheduling is widespread: 68% of Washington employees in retail and food service are required to keep their schedules open for work but are not paid when they are not called in. At the same time, corporations opt to spread out hours among a large number of part-time employees in order to maximize their ability to “flex up” on short notice.
Workers are therefore pushed to be available to work essentially 24/7 — even for part-time jobs. But at the same time many are left in a constant scramble for the hours they need to pay the bills. In our state, almost 60% of part-time food service and retail employees report they are underemployed and want to work more hours.

Unstable and unpredictable corporate scheduling practices can disrupt entire households. In Washington, 70% of hourly workers in retail and food services experience conflicts between their work schedule and caregiving responsibilities.

Erratic, last-minute scheduling furthers racial inequality as well. Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in fields like retail and food service, where just-in-time scheduling is pervasive. Workers of color experience more on-call shifts, work a larger number of “clopening” shifts where they must close the store and open it the next day with little time to rest, and are offered fewer hours than similarly qualified white co-workers. These disparities are most severe for women of color.

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We’re sponsoring statewide secure scheduling legislation in the coming legislative session (house bill here, senate bill here) because people who work for large retail and food service chains deserve the same reliability and flexibility from their employers that their employers expect from them. It’s time to ensure service workers across the state get the hours, predictability, and flexibility they need to plan their lives, pay their bills, and care for their families.

If you’re reading this thinking: ‘Hey, that’s me, I need secure scheduling,’ or you can empathize with April and her family, or you just care about advancing worker rights in our state, please call or write to your state legislators today and ask them to support our legislation. And if you work in food service or retail in Seattle and are currently covered by its local ordinance, let your legislators know how well it is working for you and that retail and food service workers across our state should enjoy the same predictability and security in their schedules.

Nicole Macri, a Democrat, is a Washington State Representative for Seattle's 43rd District. Rebecca Saldana, also a Democrat, is a Washington State Senator for Seattle's 37th District.