A speaker at a 'Fair Workweek' rally in February

Update, Dec. 6, 2018: City Council passed its fair workweek legislation with a 14-3 vote. The law will go into effect in 2020.

It’s been about a month since City Council returned for its fall session, and the legislative body has barely scratched the surface of their agenda. Among the issues left to discuss? The fair workweek bill.

In June, Councilwoman Helen Gym pitched an idea: a “fair workweek” law for chain retail and fast-food workers in Philly. The bill is designed to ensure more consistent weekly hours for Philly’s 130,000 service industry workers. If passed, it would force large employers to set schedules in advance.

Fair workweek advocates say the stability is necessary for workers to lead normal, productive lives. Opponents say the restrictions would be detrimental to business.

As Philadelphia considers becoming the next city to adopt the mandatory standards, joining New York, Seattle and others, here’s what you need to know about the issue.

What are fair workweek standards?

Within the workers’ rights movement, this specific battle has a narrow lens: scheduling.

It’s unfair to expect workers to juggle inconsistent shifts — especially without advance notice, advocacy organizations argue. The movement calls for consistent weekly schedules, compensation for last-minute changes and reasonable access to obtaining more hours. And though the movement doesn’t directly seek to raise wages, the idea is that consistent schedules would stabilize them.

According to a recent study, more than 60 percent of Philadelphians in the service industry report irregular schedules — often received less than two weeks in advance — and 77 percent of those people desire more stability in their schedules.

Why should we care?

Research shows that service sector work in Philly is pretty problematic. And inconsistent scheduling can create ripple effects into other facets of a person’s life.

The constant rearranging of schedules can impact, for example, working parents in the city. Mothers in particular often find themselves juggling work and children — and instability can make it hard to find childcare.

Plus, an inconsistent work schedule can make it hard to pursue more long-term goals, like education. Shaheim Wright, a 19-year-old Philly resident, wants to become a veterinarian — but he can’t obtain the necessary education due to his irregular schedule as a pet care associate at PetSmart.

“Because of my inconsistent schedule and the way that everything fluctuates, I can’t really pursue my goals,” Wright told Billy Penn in February.

What’s in Helen Gym’s bill?

Back in June, Gym officially introduced fair workweek legislation — estimated to impact nearly 130,000 Philly workers. If passed, it would secure:

  • Advance notice of employee schedules
  • A pathway to access more hours
  • Compensation for last-minute schedule changes
  • Protection from employer retaliation
Councilwoman Helen Gym Credit: Angela Gervasi / Billy Penn

And for the record, the bill would only impact major chains — i.e. businesses with at least 250 employees and 30 locations. The bill wouldn’t mandate any changes for Philadelphia small businesses.

Is this happening anywhere else?

Sure is. The fair workweek started becoming a thing in 2014 in cities across the country, including New York City, San Francisco, San José and Seattle.

The first was San Francisco in 2014. Then New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced his support in 2016. After that, it was like a nationwide, fair workweek domino effect. Less than a week later, Seattle was in. Then in October, Washington D.C. passed a similar law for building maintenance employees. Then San José in November.

Those cities targeted service industries of varying sizes — both smaller and larger than Philly. Seattle’s fair workweek law impacted about 40,000 people, San José’s around 170,000 and New York City’s upwards of 370,000.

And New York City’s law (signed in May 2017) actually inspired statewide change. In November that year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced fair workweek regulations that applied to the entire state.

Who supports Philly’s bill?

Already on board with the proposed legislation are seven members of City Council, who’ve officially co-sponsored the bill:

  1. Jannie Blackwell, district 3
  2. Bill Greenlee, at large
  3. Bobby Henon, district 6
  4. Kenyatta Johnson, district 2
  5. Curtis Jones, Jr., district 4
  6. Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, district 7
  7. Mark Squilla, district 1

There are also a few local organizations that support the movement: One PA, the Philly Democratic Socialists and a collection of labor unions.

In February, about a hundred service workers joined a ROC United-led rally outside City Hall to demand a fair workweek. There was another rally of CCP students last Thursday — with a message about how consistent scheduling and wages would specifically benefit college students.

Who doesn’t support the bill?

Philly’s Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that it has “serious concerns” about the proposed bill, namely that it will “restrict and discourage economic growth.”

“This is yet another anti-growth out of sync initiative introduced in City Council,” the statement reads.

Also against the idea is the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. They claim that providing schedules two weeks out is impossible in instances when you can’t predict the outcome — like when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, for example.

What’s next?

The bill now sits in the Committee on Law and Government, waiting for confirmation on wording and then a full City Council vote.

In the meantime, folks are addressing the topic by lobbying the bill outside City Hall on Wednesday morning and discussing the challenges women face in the workforce on Oct. 12.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...