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A service-sector business practice that allows employers to change employee schedules at the last minute causes devastating economic hardship on the people working these jobs, according to a report released by DC Jobs with Justice.

The report highlights the impact of “just-in-time” or “on-call” scheduling on hourly food service and retail employees—that is, the practice of changing an employee’s schedule with little to no notification and scheduling hours in an unpredictable way. Some businesses also schedule “split shifts,” where employees work “back-to-back shifts separated by more than one hour.” In D.C., employers are required by law to pay employees for one hour at minimum wage for each day that employees work a split shift. But only a third of employees who work split shifts are paid the extra wages, according to the report.

The report found that 40 percent of workers’ schedules will change after they’re posted. About half of the more than 400 people surveyed said they receive only two days’ notice of schedule changes; 30 percent of respondents said they receive less than 24 hours’ notice.

“Just-in-time” scheduling results in unstable incomes, an inability to schedule childcare and second-job shifts reliably, pursue higher education, or acquire a second job, the report says. These practices most negatively impact black and Latino workers, who together comprise about 80 percent of the service sector workforce in D.C.

“Hearing that the industry has responded [to new labor laws] by cutting hours is dissatisfying. It’s an issue to overcome. We have a long way to go,” Councilmember Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) said, referring to wage theft, minimum wage, and paid sick day laws passed in recent years by the D.C. Council.

The report—released in conjunction with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Georgetown University’s Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, and the Jobs With Justice Education Fund—argues that while D.C. has limited-scheduling laws on the books, they lack “adequate augmentation and full enforcement.”

In D.C., 130,000 workers are part of the service sector, which comprises about one-fifth of D.C.’s work force, said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. For a majority of those adults, their service sector job is their primary source of income.

“We have a strong economy, it’s just not an economy that’s benefitting everyone,” said Lazere. “The service sector is a poster child for an economy that looks good on the surface but is failing miserably at the important goal of making sure that everybody can succeed in the District of Columbia.”

At a briefing on the report this afternoon, one Walmart worker recounted the story of an acquaintance who was fired for missing a shift on his birthday, despite having requested the day off several months before. His boss scheduled him to work that day anyway and did not notify the employee of that change.

“Income inequality in D.C. is wider than in almost any other city in the country,” Lazere said. Average yearly income for the bottom 20 percent of D.C. residents is less than $10,000, while the top 5 percent make over $500,000 annually, which is the highest average of any major city in the country.

Joseph A. McCartin, director of Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, said that there are “political implications”  to the fact that workers have no control over their hours. He emphasized the need of workers to have reliable leisure time, which would allow them to “be a part of their community and be full citizens.”

“This isn’t sustainable,” McCartin said. “This report contributes to a growing consciousness over surging inequality. And this issue is right at the heart of what’s gone wrong in this economy.”

He also compared the data from this report to an unpublished analysis of labor laws he completed five years ago. On average, he said, the median number of hours worked by retail employees has decreased from 35 to 30, wages have stagnated—controlling for inflation—and workers are increasingly more afraid to contest their hours. Eighteen percent of employees surveyed for the new report said they have been penalized for requesting more consistent schedules or reducing availability.

At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said the report is “just the launch” of the campaign, and that the Council has been waiting on it to fully understand the scope of the “just-in-time” scheduling problem.

Next steps for the Council include working with advocacy organizations like DC Jobs with Justice to “craft legislation that gets at these enforcement issues.” She said the Council has not yet discussed the priority of creating a bill to ameliorate scheduling issues.

Screenshots via report from DC Jobs with Justice

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