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Seattle Lawmakers Pass Landmark Scheduling Rules For Hourly Workers

A broad flight of stairs next to a stone wall that has "Seattle City Hall" carved into it.
Daniel X. O'Neil
CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
A photo of the stairs leading up to Seattle City Hall from 4th Ave taken May 12, 2010.

Seattle lawmakers Monday passed a law designed to give thousands of hourly workers more regular schedules, calling it a step in a fight against economic disparities in the city. 

The law, dubbed "secure scheduling" by activists and city officials, passed 9-0 over objections from managers at national retail and restaurant chains. The vote makes Seattle the second city in the country, after San Francisco, to pass scheduling protections for hourly workers.

Provisions in Seattle's law make it stricter and farther reaching than San Francisco's, according to labor activists and legal experts. 

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray helped draft that law and is expected to sign it next week. It is scheduled to go into effect next July.

The scheduling rules apply to retail and food chains with more than 500 workers worldwide, including Starbucks, Target, Home Depot, and McDonald's. 

The law requires managers to post schedules two weeks in advance and then pay extra wages to workers whose hours are changed. It prevents managers from forcing employees to close a store then wake up to open without at least 10 hours of rest. And it says companies must pay half-time wages to workers who are asked to wait "on call" for a shift but are not tapped to work. 

Among other provisions, it also requires managers to give new hires "good faith" estimates of schedules and alert existing workers to available hours before hiring new employees.

Lawmakers who wrote the bill said they were responding in part to a post-recession economy that has stuck many workers in part-time jobs where hours can vary week by week or day by day. More than six million workers nationwide want full-time jobs but are working part-time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Councilmember Lorena González said the scheduling law builds on a tradition of worker-friendly legislation in Seattle that includes the city's $15 minimum wage law.

"We are shifting the power to workers so that you, as workers, can influence and shape your schedules," she said Monday. "That is a critical part of our promise of fulfilling the $15 minimum wage and combating income inequality in our city." 

Councilmember Kshama Sawant said she believed "this victory is going to be contagious" and spread to cities beyond Seattle. 

The law passed weeks after it was unveiled Aug. 9, but faced criticism from managers at Home Depot, AutoZone, Target, Petco, and Subway franchises, who called the regulations burdensome, unnecessary, and overly restrictive.

The Washington Retail Association, a lobbying group representing more than 3,500 storefronts, raised concerns the scheduling law conflicts with federal and state labor laws in a letter to city officials Sept. 7.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.