Michelle Flores thought she had everything worked out for Thanksgiving. The 20-year-old San Francisco State junior was planning to join friends this Thursday to make pineapple-crusted ham, a family favorite. But last Friday, the Safeway where Flores works as a part-time cashier informed her that she'd be expected to work during on the holiday. She reluctantly called her friends to cancel their Thanksgiving plans.
Flores is well acquainted with the stressful unpredictability of part-time work. Last semester, she found out just three days before her midterm exams that the supermarket expected her to work 30 hours that week, 25 percent more than what she typically put in. One night, she got off work at 9, made it home by 10, and had to study all night for a 9 a.m. exam. "I definitely would have done better if I'd had more sleep," she says. "Had I been notified sooner I could have studied more beforehand."
For millions of retail workers, similar disappointments are all too common. According to a recent study by Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, nearly half of young part-time retail employees receive their work schedules less than a week in advance. This is partly a symptom of retailers' increasing reliance on computerized "on call" scheduling systemsthat track weather predictions and real-time sales data to schedule work shifts—maximizing efficiency but wreaking havoc on workers' ability to manage their personal schedules.
But for Flores and 40,000 other retail workers in San Francisco, that's about to change. Yesterday, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed two lawsthat will sharply curtail "on call" scheduling at the city's major chain stores.
Nearly half of young part-time retail employees receive their work schedules less than a week in advance.
"We see this as one exciting way to address the inequality gap and pull low-wage workers out of poverty," says Gordon Mar, the executive director of Jobs With Justice San Francisco, a coalition of community and labor groups that has lobbied for the measures for more than a year. He sees them as important complements to San Francisco's new $15 minimum wage. While the wage is highest in the country, it still "isn't enough on its own to really create security for low-wage workers that are struggling to survive," says Mar.
The bills, known as the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, will make sweeping changes to how large service-industry employers hire, schedule, and retain their workforce. The new rules require employers to post worker schedules at least two weeks in advance. They discourage arbitrary or inconvenient "on call" shifts by requiring employers to pay workers when the shifts are canceled at the last minute, which can happen when real-time sales slow down. Employers are essentially banned from relying entirely on part-time workers, a common strategy to avoid paying benefits; they must now offer available shifts to existing employees before hiring new ones. And they must offer part-time workers the same opportunities for promotions, raises, and time off as full-time employees.
"It's really exciting to see San Francisco break ground on solutions for low-wage workers," says Carrie Gleason, the director of the Center for Popular Democracy's Fair Workweek Initiative. "The workweek has changed a lot in recent years, but the last time we legislated workplace standards on these issues was 75 years ago. It's long overdue that we set new standards."
More than five years into the recovery, the economy has added middle-class jobs much more slowly than part-time service positions such as cashiers and fast-food clerks. Consequently, since 2007, the number of part-time workers who'd like to work full-time positions has doubled. As Jodi Kantor reported in a gripping New York Times profile of a Starbucks barista, the shift towards part-time work and "on call" scheduling has had the effect of "injecting turbulence into parents' routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families."
"It's more convenient for them, without considering what is a better option for you."
Several states, including California and New York, already have "reporting pay" laws that require employers to pay workers extra if they send them home early from a shift. Last year, SeaTac, an airport town between Seattle and Tacoma in Washington, became the first in the country to require employers to offer additional hours to part-time workers before hiring new employees. But San Francisco's Worker Bill of Rights goes much further than these efforts, and labor organizers expect it to help catalyze similar worker rights laws elsewhere.
Jobs for Justice, the group that lobbied for the San Francisco bills, is pushing similar measures in the Washington, DC, and Boston. Minnesota and New York are consideringtighter regulations of "on call" shifts. Those two states and Michigan may also adopt laws that would bar employers from discriminating against part-time workers who request more stable schedules. The Service Employees International Union is pushing for a mandatory 30-hour workweek for security and janitorial workers in multiple states.
The Schedules That Work Act, introduced in this July in Congress by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), mirrors many of the provisions of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, including advance notice for shifts and pay for workers sent home early. Labor groups don't expect the bill or a companion measure in the Senate to pass, but see them as rallying points for other state and local legislation.
The new San Francisco laws go into effect seven months after the mayor signs them and apply to chain stores with more than 20 employees and 20 global locations. For Flores, the changes come as a relief, albeitnot soon enough to salvage her Turkey Day. The current system "does deteriorate your quality of life," she says. "It's more convenient for them, without considering what is a better option for you."
Remember the holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving? It had a pretty good run for about 390 years—until around 2011, when it began to be replaced with a shopping extravaganza. In the past few years, the traditional dividing line between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the official start of the holiday retail season, has blurred. At many major retail stores, this Thursday won't be a day of turkey and family time but a mad rush for XBoxes and iPhones. Here's how Black Friday's Thanksgiving creep became a full-blown takeover:
Wilson at a City Council meeting in February 2014.
Grand jury decides not to indict: The grand jury reviewing Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's case in St. Louis County announced on Monday night that Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The decision came more than three months after Wilson shot and killed Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose death on August 9 triggered weeks of protests that included sporadic violence and looting.
Twelve jurors—nine whites and three African Americans—reviewed Wilson's case. Their decision continues a long-running pattern of police officers involved in fatal shootings going unprosecuted.
Brown family issues statement: Mike Brown's parents released a statement following the grand jury decision asking protesters keep their actions peaceful:
Restricted air space: The Federal Aviation Administration confirms to Mother Jones that it restricted air space over Ferguson at 10:15 p.m. local time "due to gunfire." The resrtiction was in effect from the surface to 3,000 feet above sea level (about 2,500 feet off the ground), so that's why some news feeds were still working above the area.
President Obama reacts: Shortly after 10pm Eastern time, the president spoke, urging a peaceful response to the news. "Michael Brown's parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes."
Attorney General issues statement: Attorney General Eric Holder has released the following statement, saying the federal investigation into the shooting is still ongoing. (Read more about the Department of Justice's investigation here):
In recent years, more and more big-box retailers have begun forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving Day. Now, some Ohio state legislators have had enough. They're introducing bills that would give workers the right to refuse to punch in on Thanksgiving, and, if they do agree to show up on the holiday, to receive substantial overtime pay.
"Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a day when we retreat from consumerism," says Cleveland's Democratic state Rep. Mike Foley, the author of one such bill. "It's a day when you hang out with your family, go play touch football, have a big turkey dinner, and complain about your crazy uncle or cousin—but you don't think about super blockbuster sales at Target."
Foley was inspired by news circulars advertising Thanksgiving Day sales. "My wife said, 'You're a legislator, do something about this.'"
Foley's House Bill 360 would allow stores to open on Turkey Day but ban them from retaliating against workers who opt to stay home with their families. Workers who do show up would be guaranteed triple wages—which would also apply on Black Friday if stores open earlier than normal (12:01 a.m. and earlier openings have become common).
Foley says he was inspired to write the bill last year while leafing through newspaper circulars advertising Thanksgiving Day sales. "My wife said, 'You're a legislator, do something about this,'" he recalls. "And I thought, 'Well, I am.'"
If employers want to treat Thanksgiving as "an opportunity to make money or get above the black line, so be it," say Democratic Rep. Robert Hagan, the bill's cosponsor. "But the fact still remains that they have that responsibility to take care of their workers."
In Middletown, Connecticut, Democratic state Rep. Matt Lesser has pledged to introduce a similar bill next year. "The idea is to discourage retailers" from opening on Thanksgiving, he told the Hartford Courant. "And if they do require their workers to come in on Thanksgiving, that they would at least be paid overtime to compensate."
Laws restricting Thanksgiving Day commerce aren't without precedent. For decades, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island have completely banned most retailers from opening their doors on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The rules date back to colonial-era "blue laws" that restricted commercial activity on Sundays. More recently, some labor advocates have called for a federal blue law to protect Christmas and Thanksgiving. (Don't hold your breath).
Although the GOP likes to think of itself as the party of family values, Foley and Hagan say that the Republicans who control the Ohio Legislature want nothing to do with their Thanksgiving law. Their bill, first introduced last year, was quickly tabled. It's not expected to come up for a vote this year either. "They are on the side of the retailers, the restaurant owners, the people making the money, as opposed to working families," Hagan says. "That's the bottom line."
Still, the backlash against Turkey Day retail has gained some steam. The Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page has more than 100,000 likes. And more than two-dozen retail chains plan to stay dark on Thanksgiving this year, including Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dillard's, Nordstrom, GameStop, and Costco. "We don't believe that we will lose ground to competitors," GameStop president Tony Bartel told the New York Times. "Even if we lose ground to competitors, we are making it corporate principle—we have committed to associates that we will not open on Thanksgiving."
The comparison, so stupid on so many levels that it isn't worth debunking, is not just an isolated example of partisan idiocy. In recent weeks, Republican operatives have trotted out a steaming heap of similar malarkey in an effort to ward off a popular revolt against the cable industry, which wants to charge big companies such as Google or Netflix for faster internet service while slowing it down for the rest of us. Here are four other ludicrous conservative arguments for why the Federal Communications Commission shouldn't prevent this from happening:
The reality: To prevent broadband companies from discriminating against certain types of internet traffic, President Obama's wants the FCC to regulate them as a public utilities. This is something it already does with telecommunications providers. While it's true that the Communications Act subjects telecoms to a 16 percent service fee—which helps provide phone service to rural communities—this doesn't mean broadband providers would automatically have to pay a similar tax.
2) Regulating the internet will stifle innovation and job creation.
The reality: The internet we know and love is already built on the concept of net neutrality. Obama's proposed "regulation" would simply maintain the status quo by preventing monopolistic broadband providers from charging content providers tiered rates for different speeds of internet service. Far from stifling innovation, net neutrality encourages it by allowing startups to compete on the same footing as giants like Google and Facebook. That's why it has overwhelming support among Silicon Valley's "job creators."
3) Letting big companies hog bandwidth will encourage cable companies to create more bandwidth
[T]he answer is not regulations promoting net neutrality. You can already smell the mandates and the loopholes once Congress gets involved. Think special, high-speed priority for campaign commercials or educational videos about global warming. Or roadblocks—like requiring emergency 911 service—to try to kill off free Internet telephone service such as Skype.
The reality: Regulating broadband providers as utilities does not give the FCC more authority to tell them how to treat specific types of content. In fact, preventing discrimination against certain types of content by ISPs is the whole point. That's why net neutrality is popular with everyone from John Oliver to porn stars.