The District is fast becoming one of the labor-friendliest cities in the nation — a reality that has left the retail industry and conservative policy groups feeling pummeled by the city’s progressive leaders.
And on Tuesday, the D.C. Council was slated to vote on a controversial measure that would dictate the amount of advance notice major employers must give workers when scheduling shifts.
But the retail and food industries, which launched a major lobbying effort to kill the scheduling legislation, scored a minor victory — or at least a sign that the council is paying attention to their pleas.
Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) withdrew his proposal before the full council could discuss it or take a scheduled vote on it Tuesday. He said he wants to smooth out issues in the proposal and hopes to get it back on the council’s agenda July 12.
“We were trying to push real hard and see if we could get it on the fast track and get it through today,” Orange said. “I thought it would be better to slow it down and work with a couple council members who have some questions on it.”
San Francisco is the only city in the country to ban a widely used practice known as “just-in-time” scheduling, in which employers assign workers according to the time of day or month that they expect the most business. That requires the workers to be available at a moment’s notice — and it sometimes sends them home if business is slow.
The practice helps minimize labor costs, but it wreaks havoc on the lives of low-wage workers because it makes it difficult to schedule child care, commit to a second job or take part-time classes. It also leads to erratic paychecks.
The measure the D.C. Council will consider would prohibit employers with more than 40 locations nationwide from changing workers’ schedules less than two weeks in advance. If a business does make a change after the initial schedule is posted, the employee must be compensated one hour of pay. If the change is made within 24 hours of the shift, the employee must be compensated between two and four hours of pay.
The bill also requires those businesses to give extra hours to part-time workers instead of hiring more part-time workers. Businesses that do not comply could be fined.
Until recently, RasImani Diggs, 23, worked at the Marshalls in Columbia Heights for three years. She said the store would give employees their schedules for the coming week on Saturdays, which made it hard for her to juggle her other jobs.
“They made it hard to give you a chance to breathe or live your life outside what was going on in Marshalls,” said Diggs , who now works at a D.C. elementary school. “They never even tried to meet me part- or halfway.”
The TJX Companies, which owns Marshalls, declined to comment on the proposed legislation.
But business interests said that employers need to be able to schedule workers as they are needed and that the government should not be interfering with the flexibility they require.
Margaret Singleton, interim president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said that the District’s pro-labor posture could discourage prospective employers from opening in the city.
“It’s just a cumulative burden of employment-related laws that have been passed in the District in recent years,” she said. “This is just one additional one.”
The Wegmans grocery store chain, for example, has long considered opening its first outpost in the District at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
But a spokeswoman for the New York-based chain said the scheduling legislation could be a deal-breaker.
“The proposed legislation is a significant factor for us to consider before locating a store within the District,” Marcie Rivera wrote in an email. “It would negatively impact our ability to meet the work-life balance needs of our employees through flexible scheduling, while also increasing our costs.”
Lobbyists for major national retailers and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce have been meeting with D.C. Council members, urging them to defeat the bill, which moved out of committee last week by a 3-to-2 vote.
Council members Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) was a co-sponsor of the bill but voted against it in committee after meeting with local business officials, who said the legislation would dissuade them from expanding.
“We’ve seen a boom in the District with businesses wanting to locate here,” Todd said. “I think it’s incumbent upon our government that we remain competitive with Maryland and Virginia.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), a co-sponsor, also voted against the bill in committee. He said there are still details that need to be hammered out. For instance, the bill exempts employers from the scheduling rules in the event of “severe weather” but does not define the term, he said.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said that many of the council members felt “uncomfortable” with the bill as it stood. “I share some of the uneasiness,” he said.
Among the biggest concerns is what would happen if a business had an unexpected event and needed to schedule employees at the last minute, Orange said.
But Orange and local labor activists are still confident that there will be enough votes to push the bill through in July.
“We expect that the council can hear out legitimate business concerns and be reasonable about changes that need to be made to the bill,” said Ari Schwartz, a campaign organizer at DC Jobs with Justice, one of several groups that have been pushing for legislation in the District. “But at the end of the day, the council represents the people of D.C. and not these billion-dollar national corporations that have been all over the Wilson Building.”