Beyond the minimum wage: Fair work schedules offer real economic security

We're at a real starting point for righting our off-kilter economy. On Tuesday, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition J, creating the strongest minimum wage law in the country. The measure requires companies to pay $15 an hour by 2018, guarantees cost-of-living increases, and will ultimately give a raise to 142,000 mothers, fathers, servers and clerks.

Raising the minimum wage is a fundamental step in making our city a great place to live, work and raise a family. I'm certainly proud of the efforts of our broad based coalition in support of Prop. J. Yet our coalition has heard again and again from people who keep our city running that they need more than a wage increase to make ends meet and take care of their loved ones in our most expensive of cities. They need schedules that work.

Too many of our neighbors who serve our food, stock our shelves and sweep our floors have jobs that grant too few hours on too short notice and require them to be at the beck and call of their employer. They're not just stretched trying to live paycheck to paycheck, but hour to hour.

Take Sandra Herrera, a supermarket cashier and mother of four. Her work schedule has recently been reduced, while her employer has hired new part-time workers. As Sandra describes it, “Not knowing how much I will bring home every week means that I don't know how much food I can buy for my kids or whether we'll be able to celebrate the holidays.”

Insufficient hours in retail jobs has suddenly and maddeningly become commonplace. So too has wildly unpredictable schedules as Brian Quick, who has worked in retail for four years, can attest. At the Old Navy flagship store, his schedule would come out on Thursday night for the week starting Sunday. Without knowing his hours, every week was a guessing game.

“It's hard to plan anything such as doctor appointments when you aren't even sure when you work,” Brian said. “Some weeks I would work 35 hours and the next I'd get 15 hours. How am I supposed to pay bills? One day I came into work and they cut my hours right then and there.”

Strong wages, stable hours and sane schedules are the basics that all families in our community deserve to build a good life. But Sandra's and Brian's schedules are clearly out of whack. That's because companies like Walmart and McDonald's have rigged the rules by intentionally denying employees more hours and implementing scheduling systems that wreak havoc on their ability to take care of their families. It's one more way corporations have taken advantage of us, raking in profits by cutting everything our families need to survive.

However we now we have a chance to rewrite these wrongs and make sure people like Sandra and Brian have enough hours for a decent paycheck and a schedule their families can depend on.

In the coming weeks, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider a set of commonsense policies to help more people secure jobs with just hours. The Retail Workers Bill of Rights would help employees of San Francisco's massively profitable chain stores and restaurants secure fair and consistent schedules with enough hours to plan their lives and provide for their families. Backed by a broad-based coalition of over 30 community, labor and business groups, these policies could usher in reliable and sufficient schedules for more than 40,000 people.

We can make San Francisco a great place to work if we can do right by those who keep our city working.

Gordon Mar is the executive director of Jobs With Justice San Francisco.

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