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Low-wage hourly workers have been complaining for years about unpredictable work schedules with last-minute changes. And next week, San Francisco is expected to pass the nation's first law addressing that issue. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports on the Retail Workers Bill of Rights.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The legislation aims to help people like Sandra Herrera, a mother of four who's been a cashier at Safeway for seven years. She says she can be assigned the late shift one day, early hours the next, and never knows until a few days before.
SANDRA HERRERA: It's hard. And I have a 5-year-old, so when they put me to work 24 hours, it's like I don't see my son, so there's no time for me to play with him or help with his homework - nothing.
LUDDEN: Herrera says she can't even make doctor's appointments. She gets emotional about that.
HERRERA: I have canceled a lot of appointments. Especially - I'm sorry - especially with my daughter - that she's overweight and she's in the struggle of being diabetic.
LUDDEN: Her own doctor finally wrote a note saying Herrera needed every Wednesday off to take her daughter to appointments. But it's not as if Herrera works too much. In fact, despite begging for extra shifts, she's been cut to 24 hours a week - hardly enough to raise her family on, even with her landscaper husband's help. San Francisco City supervisor David Chiu says these kinds of scheduling practices are keeping low-wage workers from getting ahead.
DAVID CHIU: If I can't even count on when I'll work those 10 to 20 hours, it makes it very difficult for me to hang on to multiple jobs, which many workers desperately need, particularly in our expensive urban cities.
LUDDEN: Chiu, with supervisor Eric Mar, is co-sponsor of a sweeping Retail Workers Bill of Rights. It would require larger chain stores to offer part-time workers more hours before they hire someone else. They'd have to post work schedules two weeks in advance. And if managers make last-minute changes, Chiu says, they'd pay a penalty - 1 to 3 hours of wages.
CHIU: There were just so many stories of low-wage hourly workers who were told you'll have a shift on Thursday and then be told Wednesday night or Thursday morning, sorry, we don't need you for that shift.
JIM LAZARUS: You're trying to make one size fit all and that's difficult.
LUDDEN: Jim Lazarus is with the Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. He says giving more hours to existing workers will cost jobs for others. As for predictable schedules, he says it's not always so easy.
LAZARUS: Is it a restaurant that has outdoor space - is there a weather change? Is it a - all of a sudden a World Series comes to town?
LUDDEN: But experts say well beyond situations like that, more and more companies are demanding ultimate flexibility.
SUSAN LAMBERT: What is called open availability is often a condition for today's workers.
LUDDEN: Susan Lambert is with the University of Chicago. She says technology lets stores track sales and staff like never before.
LAMBERT: And every individual employee will have their own individual sales target. And they can be monitored with computer software so that supervisors and managers know how many sweaters are walking out the door.
LUDDEN: Lambert says not enough sales and workers can be sent home. She thinks San Francisco's expected new law will shift some of this business risk from workers back onto companies. And she expects other places will look to copy it. In fact, co-sponsor David Chiu is now a newly elected California Assemblyman, and plans a statewide Worker Bill of Rights. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
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