It happened with paid sick leave. And with the minimum wage.
Now, with the Seattle City Council unanimously passing what’s known as a “secure scheduling” law Monday, could a movement to ensure employees in the fast food and retail industries have more predictable schedules be the next labor battle to hit Tacoma?
The proposition might seem far-fetched.
But is it?
First, a secure-scheduling primer, for those Tacomans who don’t follow Seattle’s every move.
Secure scheduling — sometimes referred to as “fair scheduling” — is a fancy way of describing efforts to reign in the erratic nature of shift allocation, particularly in food service and retail. It’s designed to lessen the burden on those who work in these industries and often are forced to contend with ever-changing schedules and — among other hardships — the unpredictable pay that goes along with them.
In Seattle, the new law — which is expected to go into effect next year and has been criticized by a number of business groups — is fairly narrow in scope. As Seattle Times’ Janet I. Tu reported, it applies only to “large retailers and quick-serve food and drink establishments with 500 or more workers, and to full-service restaurants with both 500 or more employees and 40 or more locations.”
In general, yes, we totally think Seattle is a spark for secure scheduling, much like the minimum wage. As our executive director, Sejal Parikh, said at Seattle City Council yesterday, ‘We know that what happens in Seattle, doesn't just stay in Seattle. But it starts here.’ Working Washington spokesman Sage Wilson
Seattle’s law requires employers to give “good-faith estimates” of the hours a potential employee will work if they’re hired, to post schedules 14 days in advance, to schedule at least 10 hours of rest between opening and closing shifts, and to pony up what’s known as “predictability pay” to employees when bosses deviate from the posted schedule. It also requires employers to offer available hours to existing part-time employees before hiring new ones.
In passing its secured-scheduling law, Seattle becomes the second U.S. city to enact such regulations … right behind — you guessed it – San Francisco.
While all of this might sound like liberal Seattle doing liberal Seattle — and, to be certain, there’s an element of that in play here — it would be foolish to assume the secure-scheduling movement is going to stop there. Think Progress, among others, already is calling it “the next battleground” for those who’ve been on the front lines of the minimum wage battle.
As we know, the minimum wage battle eventually reached the City of Destiny.
So should we expect the same from secure scheduling?
Answers to that question vary.
“In general, yes, we totally think Seattle is a spark for secure scheduling, much like the minimum wage,” Sage Wilson, spokesman for the labor group Working Washington, told me Tuesday, a little more than 24 hours after Seattle’s council made its decision. “As our executive director, Sejal Parikh, said at Seattle City Council yesterday, ‘We know that what happens in Seattle, doesn’t just stay in Seattle. But it starts here.’ ”
That progressive prognostication, however, came with a caveat: “As for specific trajectory, that’s harder to say from the day after the vote how this moves. ... And in the end that really depends on where workers step up and move it forward next,” Wilson said.
In other words, whether secure scheduling becomes an issue in Tacoma largely depends on whether someone picks up the torch in Tacoma and runs with it.
At this point, the prospects of that happening seem uncertain at best. Maximilian Hyland, an activist involved with last year’s campaign for 15 Now Tacoma’s ballot initiative, described secure scheduling as a good idea, but one he anticipates would garner significant opposition and only lukewarm support from local union groups.
“The resistance we would face is enormous, especially compared to our resources,” Hyland said.
The resistance we would face is enormous, especially compared to our resources. Maximilian Hyland, an activist involved with the campaign for the 15 Now Tacoma ballot initiative
Vince Kueter, a labor activist who also was involved with 15 Now Tacoma’s ballot measure, tells me he supports secure scheduling in principle, though he worries Seattle’s law is too specific and won’t impact all the workers who could benefit from the legislation, such as bus drivers or those working in the medical profession. “This is a great law that hardly covers anybody. It’s basically McDonalds and Macy’s,” he said.
Kueter also is skeptical of whether there’s a path for a secure-scheduling victory in Tacoma saying, the “environment hasn’t changed that much,” from 2015’s minimum wage debate, which ended with voters favoring the business-backed $12 minimum wage alternative. He’s not sure secure scheduling is the type of fight that lends itself to an initiative effort, and — unlike in Seattle — he doesn’t anticipate it as an issue the Tacoma City Council will have any interest in.
“The way that the Tacoma City Council is balanced right now, the votes wouldn’t be there. Even if there was some initial warmth … really, I only see two votes for it,” Kueter said.
Still, that’s not to say labor groups aren’t taking note.
And, potentially, taking notes.
“Right now, secure scheduling is something that the labor community is watching very closely here in Pierce County and Tacoma,” said Nathe Lawver, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 367.
“Obviously, United Food and Commercial Workers’ core constituency is retail workers, which this would have a huge impact on,” Lawver continued. “So it is something that I’m pretty sure the labor community would support as a whole.”
Only time will tell if the secure-scheduling debate reaches Tacoma.
But if we’ve learned anything from recent history, it’s that sometimes big ideas — such as city mandated sick leave or substantial increases to the minimum wage — can quickly go from pipe dream to reality.