Oregon is requiring that employers give schedules to their workers at least seven days in advance, the first state to crack down on a growing practice in which employees sometimes find out only hours beforehand when they are working. Worker advocates say the Fair Work Week Act will allow employees to have a better work-life balance, while retailers counter that removing their flexibility could hurt the workers as well as the businesses' abilities to schedule last-minute shifts.
The change was prompted by workers and worker rights groups who are pushing for cities and states to regulate the growing practice.
"Attention to the mounting challenges of underemployment and volatiles work schedules has been mounting for years now. The momentum for fair work week policies stems from a growing awareness that, for most Americans, a family-sustaining paycheck comes from both a living wage and stable hours. Fair work week protections are a natural step for cities and states who have raised the minimum wage and guaranteed earned sick time," said Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Work Week Initiative with the Center for Popular Democracy, a left-leaning advocacy group.
"Many employers are now starting to voluntarily improve their scheduling practices as a result of the wave of media attention, legal challenges, and policy action. For example, after state attorneys general inquired about whether on-call-scheduling was a potential violation of state reporting pay laws, more than 13 major retail brands swiftly ended their use of on-call shifts," she added.
The state legislature passed the bill in June, which Democratic Gov. Kate Brown later signed. Hourly employees account for more than half of the state's residents.
"While D.C. has lost sight of working Americans, Oregon lawmakers came together this session to help workers balance life and their job with the first statewide Fair Work Week bill," Brown said in a statement when she signed the Fair Work Week Act into law.
Retail, food, and hospitality companies with more than 500 employees will be required to give schedules to workers at least one week in advance starting July 1, which will give employers time to adjust their scheduling procedures. The law mandates employees receive at least 10 hours off between shifts, which prevents late-night closing shifts being followed by early morning assignments. The second policy can be waived if the employee is paid time and a half for the second shift.
By July 2020, employers will have to release schedules two weeks in advance. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers based on their scheduling needs.
Half of Oregon's retail workers and 64 percent of food service workers currently receive their schedules less than one week in advance, according to a 2017 study by the Labor Education Research Center of the University of Oregon and Portland State University. One in six Oregonians get their schedule 24 hours in advance. Another 44 percent report working back-to-back shifts.
"The work week has become incredibly eratic and unpredictable," Gleason said. "The new Oregon law seeks to provide some more predictability and stability for the people in the service industry so that they can be able to set up routines with their families, and be able to get enough hours each week to make ends meet."
Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City have approved similar measures. Oregon's law gives advocates momentum and signals that other states could soon follow suit. The new law is drawing the attention of lawmakers across the country, including in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, Gleason said.
About 80 percent of all employed people worked in the service sector in 2014, according to a December 2015 Department of Labor report.
Although Oregon is a blue state, Republicans teamed up with Democrats to pass the bill. The chamber voted 46-13 for the bill, including nearly half of the chamber's 25 Republicans. In the state Senate, which has 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans, the vote was 23-6.
Employer groups, who oppose the law, worry about what it could mean if other states follow suit.
"Any time you remove flexibilty, especially in the hospitality industry, from the scheduling process, it can be very harmful to both the the employer and employee," said Greg Astley, director of government affairs for the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The National Retail Federation has not taken a formal position on the Oregon law, but said it opposes the idea.
"Every retailer ... they don't need the government telling them how to run their business or their work schedule," said spokesman Craig Shearman. "When people go to work in retail, they know the schedule requirements. They know it's a business when they're working nights and weekends. They know it's a business where the scheduling needs can be affected by how busy the store is."
Both groups said they are prepared to lobby Congress if the Oregon law sparks a national push, though Republican majorities would make the changes unlikely.
In June, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced the Schedules That Work Act in Congress to address the issue nationally. The bill would require schedules be issued two weeks in advance for employees in retail, food service and cleaning jobs. The bill is a reintroduction of a July 2015 version Warren proposed. Republicans also held the Senate from 2014 to 2015 and never advanced the bill out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.