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Labor and elected officials advocate for fair workweek

Stephon Johnson | 3/9/2017, midnight
Workers from around New York City rallied in favor of legislation to improve their lives.
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Workers from around New York City rallied in favor of legislation to improve their lives.

Cashiers, cooks, delivery people, salespeople, worker advocates and elected officials gathered outside of City Hall Friday before a hearing on what’s known as “fair workweek” legislation. Workers want the New York City Council to pass the bills under the “Fair Work” banner immediately.

“Even when I ask for days off, they still put me on the schedule and often I have to scramble to find someone to fill my shift,” stated Chiptole employee Harmonie Higgins. “It is impossible to plan my life. I am expecting my first baby in July. Without a fixed schedule, I find it hard to find time to go to doctor appointments and find time to rest.”

The proposed legislation would require managers to give two weeks advance notice of changes to a worker’s schedule, impose a penalty if the schedule is changed at the last minute, place restrictions on “clopenings” (when an employee closes a store at night and comes back the next day to open the store) and give more hours to full-time workers before hiring part-time employees.

Two other bills would ban on-call scheduling in retail, which requires workers to be available certain hours to work even if they aren’t scheduled to work, and give workers the right to request a flexible schedule without fear of retaliation from management.

“On-call scheduling is devastating for retail workers,” said Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “You need to put your life on hold and be available for work, regardless of whether you will be called-in or paid. If you are a part-time worker, the uncertainty of your schedule means you can’t arrange for a needed second job. If you are a parent, you don’t know if you are going to need child care. If you want to continue your schooling, you can’t sign up for classes without knowing your availability.”

Another piece of legislation, known as the Fast-Food Workers Empowerment Act, would require employees to honor workers’ request to deduct individual contributions from the paycheck to not-for-profit organizations that fight on behalf of working people.

All six pieces of legislation have co-sponsors in the City Council as well as the support of individuals and organizations such as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Council Member and Labor Committee Chair I. Daneek Miller, Council Member Brad Lander, the National Action Network, Communication Workers of America, DC 37, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and 32BJ SEIU.

“The City Council can be at the vanguard of promoting workers’ rights and protecting vulnerable communities by passing this bill,” stated 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “It is the first of its kind in the country and creates a way for workers to pool their resources, educate their co-workers about their rights and build collective power in their communities. Fast-food workers in New York joined together to win a path to a $15 minimum wage. Now they have a chance to keep fighting for themselves, their families and for all New Yorkers.”

On the same day that the City Council considered legislation for a fair workweek, workers at a Domino’s Pizza in Washington Heights announced a plan to go on strike. The workers pushed management for a regular and predictable schedule, but had their hours reduced instead. In 2013, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman forced Domino’s to reinstate 25 workers, mostly Latino delivery people, who had participated in rally advocating for a $15 minimum wage.

At the rally, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James called for the city legislature to protect working class New Yorkers trying to make ends meet.

“Workers across every sector must be protected from detrimental practices that put their lives and their jobs at risk,” stated Letitia James. “The widespread use of flexible scheduling subjects too many New Yorkers to constant changes in their work hours and days, forcing them to constantly be on-call, yet without the security of a steady, full-time job. This package of bills will go a long way in ensuring that hardworking New Yorkers get treated with the respect and fairness they deserve.”