Yesterday, the City Council of Philadelphia voted 14-3 to approve a bill that should ensure more predictable hours for workers in the food, service, and hospitality industries. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney, and once it's in effect, Philadelphia will join New York City, Oregon, Seattle, and San Francisco in enacting fair workweek legislation.
The bill is meant to bring stability to the lives of hourly workers, for whom unpredictable work schedules—and accordingly, unpredictable wages—can reinforce the cycle of poverty.
Regarding the move, the Associated Press quoted Philadelphia Councilwoman and champion of the bill Helen Gym as saying: “We can talk about poverty, or we can do something about it. We choose to do something... This is a win for our city, for Philadelphia’s working people, and for smart business practices.”
As reported by the Philadelphia Media Network, the Fair Workweek bill will "require Philadelphia employers with more than 30 locations and 250 employees to give workers two weeks advance notice of their schedules and offer 'predictability pay' if schedules change after that." Employers would also be required to "offer available shifts to existing workers rather than hiring new ones."
According to PMN's report, the Fair Workweek bill will affect an estimated 130,000 workers, including hotel workers—who are not covered by similar legislation in other cities—and unionized workers.
Opposition has come from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and chains including Wendy's and Target, all of whom think the bill could impede business growth throughout the city. Councilman Brian O’Neill, one of three Republican council members to oppose the bill, argued the bill’s protections of unionized workers were unnecessary, given their coverage by collective bargaining agreements.
According to a fact sheet from One Pennsylvania, a coalition of activists that has campaigned strongly for the bill’s passage, Fair Workweek legislation is key to addressing poverty in Philadelphia by ensuring that the "thriving service economy provides reliable jobs that delivery stability for working families."
According to the AP, Philadelphia is the poorest of America's big cities. In Philadelphia County, the minimum wage is almost a full five dollars below the calculated living wage for one adult ($7.25 versus $12.17), a disparity that becomes more striking when taking single parents into account: The living wage for a sole provider for two children is $29.69. Recent research by PEW found that more than a quarter of residents live below the poverty line.
"Too many people working in hourly service jobs can’t keep up with unpredictable, last-minute, fluctuating workweeks over which they have no control," wrote One Pennsylvania in the fact sheet. "These practices have caused profound insecurity for working families, making it difficult to predict their income from week to week, make time for school, or care for children."
One Pennsylvania cites a brief on work conditions from earlier this year put together by researchers at University of California, Berkeley and UC San Francisco, who—in collaboration with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment—published the results of a survey of almost 700 service industry workers in Philadelphia. The researchers found high rates of underemployment and schedule instability: 62 percent of workers reported receiving their schedules less than two weeks in advance, and 77 percent of workers reported a desire for greater predictability in terms of scheduling. Seventy-four percent of people working less than 30 hours per work reported a desire for more hours, and another 72 percent of workers surveyed reported frequent conflict between work and caregiving responsibilities.
Nationwide, these sentiments are echoed by the Economic Policy Institute, which published a report in July of this year on the benefits of fair workweek laws. “Volatile hours not only mean volatile incomes,” it read, but they create roadblocks in pursuing childcare, classes, second jobs, and other career opportunities.
That report concluded: “In the same way that campaigns for higher minimum wages, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave have highlighted the need to update labor standards to reflect today’s economy, we hope and expect that lawmakers in more jurisdictions will also recognize that stable, predictable, and adequate work hours are essential to ensuring that workers, families, businesses, and communities can thrive.”
While the bill is good news for Philadelphia workers, they'll have to wait more than a year to reap its reward: The bill won't go into effect until January 1, 2020.