Abstract: The Merits and Drawbacks of Local Level Employment Policy: The Case of Fair Workweek Ordinances (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Merits and Drawbacks of Local Level Employment Policy: The Case of Fair Workweek Ordinances

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Susan Lambert, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Anna Haley, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University
Background and Purpose. ‘Fair workweek’ legislation provides an intriguing context for examining the prospects of relying on local ordinances to set new employment standards. To date, five municipalities (San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Philadelphia, and Chicago) have enacted scheduling ordinances. Although scheduling laws are local, the firms covered are mostly national chains, primarily in retail and food service. For many covered worksites, business procedures are set at the chains’ corporate level, raising questions about the ability of managers to comply simultaneously with local scheduling regulation and their company’s performance requirements. Much is at stake. Recent national surveys indicate that work hours are a key source of inequality at work and home: workers of color, earning low-wages, and working part-time are at heightened risk of a constellation of problematic scheduling practices that undermine worker well-being and family economic security.

This paper examines frontline business managers’ implementation of Seattle’s 2017 Secure Scheduling Ordinance (SSO) 18-months after it was enacted. We assess the alignment between managers’ scheduling practices and distinct SSO provisions. Building on baseline interviews with managers conducted prior to enactment, we examine how the process of policy implementation unfolds on the ground to disrupt or reinforce inequities in the distribution of work hours. A key goal is to examine how national firms respond to local employment laws in practice.

Methods. Utilizing a comparative organizational case study method (Yin 2014), we sampled worksites in SSO-covered industries, interviewing managers at 37 worksites (21 retail, 9 fast food, and 7 full-service restaurants); response rate of 40%. Data come from surveys and in-depth interviews with managers directly responsible for scheduling workers. Interviews were coded to capture firm accountability requirements, the alignment of managers’ practices with SSO provisions, and managers’ strategies for navigating legal requirements and firm performance metrics.

Results. Managers report that they have received few supports from their firm in implementing the SSO. Most covered firms have only a handful of sites within Seattle but hundreds throughout the US. Managers report that their firm has not customized scheduling and payroll systems for covered stores. Instead, they are left on their own to maintain and document compliance, resulting in inconsistent implementation. The accountability requirements of the larger company show up in the different pathways managers are taking toward compliance. For several of the provisions, managers can achieve alignment either by avoiding scheduling practices that incur extra payment to employees or by continuing to use the practice and then paying workers the required premium. For workers, these routes create a trade-off between greater schedule predictability and increased earnings, undermining work hour equity.

Implications: The variation we observe across worksites highlights the limitations of local ordinances for reducing the inequities created by scheduling practices in national firms. Pressures to reduce labor costs are even more intense in the context of the pandemic. We discuss strategies to enforce the laws and also support frontline managers so that we emerge from the pandemic with a framework for federal level legislation that sets universal work hour standards for all workers.