This Labor Day, D.C. Needs Fair Schedules

Nikki Lewis
4 min readSep 6, 2015

A three-day holiday weekend is the perfect time to disconnect from our busy workweeks. But for thousands of working people here in the District, the uncertainty of what next week will look like is at the front of their minds.

Take the experience of a Forever 21 employee whom we spoke with: On a recent Sunday, he didn’t know if or when he’d be working until an hour and a half before his shift. He was forced to plan his entire day around the possibility he would be called into work.

Stories like his aren’t anomalies in D.C. A study we jointly issued with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and Georgetown University this year found that nearly half of the service sector employees surveyed right here in our city said they received their work schedules less than a week in advance.

I’ve heard so many real stories behind those numbers through the 500 District employees we surveyed: Child care is tough to schedule; you have to choose between working and attending class; holding down a second job to make ends meet isn’t possible; and you don’t know how much money you’ll take home at the end of the week because you don’t know how many hours you’ll actually work.

Corporations like McDonald’s and Marshalls, along with a host of other companies, are racing to the bottom when it comes to denying their employees more hours and manipulating their scheduling systems, which make people’s lives impossible to plan. They’re raking in profits while cutting back on what our city’s families need to thrive.

Our city will succeed when everyone in our community is given enough respect on the job to plan their life and care for their family. People deserve enough hours for a decent paycheck, as well as schedules that their family can depend on.

We wholeheartedly agree with Mayor Bowser on the urgency of creating pathways to the middle class for all D.C. residents. For that to become a reality, the 130,000 people working in our city’s service industries must be provided the hours and stability in order to work their way up.

Washington, D.C., has passed some of the strongest workplace laws in the country. We’ve been successful in boosting the minimum wage, and we led the charge for paid sick days. We can continue rewriting the rules to make the District a great place to live, work and sustain a family. But when it comes to work schedules, we must do better.

We didn’t work this hard to get higher pay and decent family policies in place, only to have these reforms compromised by the fact that employees aren’t scheduled for enough hours to make ends meet. We didn’t come this far to force our strivers to choose between going to work and going to school. It’s just plain wrong that no matter how hard you work, you’re still living on the brink because your work hours are constantly changing. Strong wages, stable hours and predictable schedules are the basics of what all members of our community need to build a good life.

We’ve seen incredible progress this year to bring fairer wages to Americans across the country — from Los Angeles and Kansas City to the state of New York. And the men and women who work in places like Seattle and San Francisco are already seeing real change in their lives because they’re on the path of being paid enough to make ends meet. But that’s only the first step.

Working people, community groups and their allies have been pressing companies and policymakers to put an end to unsustainable schedules so that our jobs work for those who work for a living, and not just the wealthy. San Francisco even adopted landmark rules that went into effect this summer to give people who work at large retailers a path to stable schedules and stable paychecks, and there are similar efforts underway across the country, including in the District.

This isn’t a problem with an impossible solution. As a result of the growing outrage over on-call schedules, Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and as of last week Gap Inc. are changing the policies they use to set schedules for their associates. Gap’s recent decision to end on-call schedules and offer 10 to 14 days’ notice for its employees in all 2,500 of its stores demonstrates that employers do have a choice. They can make schedules work for their hard-working employees.

Locally, Ace Hardware stores posts schedules two weeks in advance, and when shifts become available, they first make them available to part-time store associates before hiring someone new. For those businesses that aren’t yet seeing the value of family-friendly schedules, our city must take the steps to make life better for the people who live and work here. Let’s continue to embrace new standards that that do right by those who clock in and out every day to keep our city running.

Nikki Lewis is the Executive Director of DC Jobs With Justice.