April 14, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Low wages well south of $15 an hour are just one of the reasons why so many workers are finding it increasingly difficult to survive. But a new probe into the retail sector could bring struggling low-wage earners some relief.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced that his office is conducting an investigation into the retail industry’s use of on-call scheduling.
Many may not realize it, but traditional schedules clearly delineating an employee’s work hours are rapidly disappearing.
A 2011 industry study found an incredible 43 percent of all retail workers in the City of New York are subjected to on-call shifts. On-call shifting means that low-wage earners at The GAP, TJ Maxx, Target and the like, often don’t know when they’re supposed to report to work from one day to the next.
Large chain retailers like on-call shifting because it provides them with yet another way to cut costs. The impact on workers, however, is devastating.
"I'm scheduled for on-call shifts half of the time,” Club Monaco employee Tyi Jones said in a statement following the announcement of the attorney general's probe. “Since I don't have reliable income from Club Monaco, I work a second job as a freelance accessories designer. But without a consistent schedule, I never know if I can make it to appointments with my freelance clients or make a deadline. It leaves my life in total limbo and I never know if I'll have enough money week to week.”
Worker advocates are calling the attorney general’s investigation into the retail industry’s corrosive scheduling practices “historic in both scope and depth.”
“On-call workers have lives and families too,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.“On-call scheduling leaves workers uncertain about whether they need child care, can get a second job or continue their education.”
The announcement of the attorney general’s probe comes just days ahead of a massive fast food workers strike set for April 15. In addition to the fight for “$15 and a union,” fast food workers and their allies have long sought an end to on-call scheduling.
Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said that the fight for good jobs means a lot than just higher wages.
“The practice of requiring workers to be available on-demand prevents these men and women from living full and satisfying lives and knowing they will have the time they need to take care of their families,” Figueroa said in a statement. “This is a great first step in combatting abusive scheduling practices so that everyone has working hours they can live with.”
In all, Attorney General Schneiderman will be looking at 13 popular retail chains around the city.
Andrew Friedman, co-executive director at The Center for Popular Democracy, said that in addition to hurting working families, on-call shifting also harms the overall economy.
“Sophisticated scheduling systems make it easier than ever for retailers to predict labor needs,” Friedman said. “Yet, the industry continues to waste working peoples’ time with on-call shifts.”