Philly is now the second-largest U.S. city with a ‘fair workweek’ law

Upwards of 130,000 Philadelphians can now expect dependable schedules and mandated rest between shifts.

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Helen Gym / Twitter
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After months of laborious debates, City Council on Thursday passed a major regulatory bill that will force fast-food chains, retailers and hotels to provide advanced scheduling to their workers, among a slew of other protections. The big reason? So workers can better plan their lives and, according to the bill’s sponsors, escape the cycle of poverty.

The approach is affectionately referred to as a “fair workweek,” and Philly is the latest city to adopt the practice. New York, San Francisco and other large municipalities have been implementing similar laws since 2014.

“[Philly’s] will be the most expansive in the country,” Councilwoman Helen Gym told a packed Council chambers.

The bill, introduced by Gym in June, passed 14-3. It will raise scheduling standards for any Philly business with more than 30 locations and 250 employees — think national fast-food chains and retailers, from McDonald’s to Target. Per the final language, the law will impact more than 130,000 workers in the city, affecting a cohort who are predominantly paid low wages.

Despite Gym’s claim, experts say certain aspects of the newly-passed bill are weaker than comparable laws in other cities — though others are seen as stronger. Philly’s fair workweek package will secure:

  • Two-week advance notice of employee schedules
  • Compensation for last-minute schedule changes, aka “predictability pay”
  • Shifts offered to part-time workers before a company hires new workers

How’d we get here?

Labor groups and workers who make low wages have been rallying Council to introduce fair scheduling legislation for over a year now. They detailed the rampant scheduling chaos at fast-food joints, big-box retailers and certain hospitality restaurants and hotels, and sold lawmakers on how the work schedule creates a ripple effects into other facets of a person’s life.

Last-minute schedule changes deeply impact parents who juggle work and children. Plus, a chaotic work schedule can be a barrier to more long-term goals, like going to college or a training program.

Annie Ellison, a housekeeper at the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia for 18 years, testified in Council about the difficulties of getting childcare as a working parent.

“A lot of mothers come to work at 8 [in the morning] and don’t get out in time to get their kids from daycare,” Ellison said. “All day long we worry about it.”

Gym and the bill’s seven co-sponsors sold it as an “anti-poverty measure,” a cry largely echoed throughout the hours of public testimony Thursday. Chambers were full of people from a range of organizations — labor, religious, political — all testifying to the need for the fair workweek protections.

“Workers deserve to know when and how long they will work,” said Rev. William B. Moore, pastor at Tenth Memorial Baptist Church in North Philly. “Sensitivity to the needs of the worker is crucial to a stable workplace and … helps break the cycle of poverty.”

“The cry in the city is for a fair workweek,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the local NAACP.

Surprising no one who’s followed the mascot’s press so far, Gritty was co-opted as the de facto figurehead for the campaign — at least online. The real-life orange hellion was reportedly scheduled to appear for Thursday’s vote, but cancelled because of another commitment. (He’s kinda popular.)

GOP and Chamber of Commerce: It’s bad, because reasons

Every sitting Democrat on City Council voted for the bill. Gym said the bill was not rushed and went through several amendments over the last year.

Council’s three Republican members were the sole no votes on the bill. Attendees met Councilman Brian O’Neill’s opposition with a chorus of boos, but the Northeast Philly lawmaker said he could not vote for the bill because it unnecessarily extends to unionized workers.

“It does not exempt collective bargaining agreements — and it should,” O’Neill said.

Unions have been carved out of previous labor regulation bills, like the controversial paid sick leave bill that passed in 2014. O’Neill said plainly that unions should not be covered because they do not need the extra protections that could be afforded through the bill. Several unions, including the Philly chapter of the AFL-CIO, backed the legislation and urged Council to keep unionized workers covered. As written, unions may write the exemption into their contract if they wish.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce was also among of the bill’s fiercest opponents.

Chamber President Rob Wonderling said the regulations would stifle business growth and ultimately kill jobs across the city. In a statement sent out Thursday, he commended Council for ironing out some of the more onerous aspects of the bill, but raised concerns about regulations going forward.

“While some amendments helped ease the regulatory burden on some employers, we are hopeful that the regulatory process will provide further relief to owners of hotels and franchise establishments,” Wonderling said in a statement.

Fair workweek won’t actually happen until 2020

The bill heads to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for final passage — a sure thing, given his office’s open support of the law. But as implementation, there will be a one-year delay until workers can expect big changes to the way employees set their hours. So the first actual “fair workweek” will begin January 1, 2020.

In the meantime, city officials will figure out how to enforce the laws. As with the paid sick leave law, the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations will be tasked with keeping businesses in compliance with the fair workweek law.

Bonus legislation from Thursday’s session: Council passed a bill on behalf of Mayor Kenney that will raise the minimum wage for city contractors and subcontractors from $12 to $14 an hour. It’s unclear how many workers will be impacted by the change.

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