Legislation intended to give hourly employees more predictable work schedules effectively died Tuesday before the D.C. Council, with lawmakers saying that they were hesitant to pile too many costs onto employers in a single year.
The D.C. Council voted 9 to 4 to table the bill, leaving little chance that lawmakers would reach a final decision this session on the council’s third major pro-labor bill.
The legislation, which mirrors similar laws passed in San Francisco and Seattle, would have mandated that employers give workers two weeks’ advance notice of their scheduled hours. It also would have required bosses to give part-time workers priority when filling full-time shifts.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) predicted that the legislative body would focus instead on finishing a bill that would require private employers to provide paid family leave, to be funded by a new corporate tax. That bill follows a decision in the spring to ratchet up the city’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by the end of the decade.
“My concern was we were getting too far into the details of telling businesses how to operate,” Mendelson said. “But that was a concern, not a judgment. There is a possibility this issue comes back up” next year.
But advocates for hourly workers, dozens of whom had filled the council chambers wearing “JUST HOURS” stickers, took little solace in the suggestion that the bill may be revisited.
“We are extremely disappointed,” said Ari Schwartz, a spokesman for DC Jobs with Justice, a coalition of workers’ groups supporting the legislation. “We had people who tell us they are with working families who vote against us. This was a question of who stands with workers.”
Several council members who had initially supported the legislation when it was proposed last year by former council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) retracted their support over recent months amid a lobbying push by Target, Best Buy and other big-box retailers who said the costs would be prohibitive. Grocery chain Wegmans threatened not to move into the District if the bill passed.
The bill would have curbed a practice known as “just-in-time” scheduling.
Employers use the computer-assisted scheduling practice to assign workers according to the time of day or month that they expect the most business, requiring them to sometimes be available at a moment’s notice or to be sent home if business is slow.
Opponents say that while the practice might minimize labor costs, it can wreak havoc on the lives of low-wage workers, making it difficult to schedule child care, commit to a second job or take part-time classes. The practice also results in erratic pay, studies show.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had cautioned against the bill, saying she wanted time to study its impacts in concert with the increase to the minimum wage and 1 percent corporate tax increase likely needed to cover new family-leave benefits.
Asked for reaction Tuesday, Rob Hawkins, a Bowser spokesman, wrote in an email, “The council sets the council’s agenda.”
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At large) pleaded with colleagues to keep the bill alive Tuesday morning during a breakfast meeting before the public council session.
Silverman said she wanted to send the measure back to committee and begin study sessions to find grounds for a compromise.
“I thought it was the right thing to do by our hourly workers,” Silverman said.
The bill figured prominently in Orange’s decision to resign early from the council.
Orange, who chaired the council committee on business affairs, advanced the measure weeks before he lost his primary in June. Shortly thereafter, he left on vacation, missing a council meeting at which he had been expected to press for a vote on the scheduling bill.
Over ensuing weeks, support for the bill on the council fractured, and Orange announced that he planned to take a job in August as chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, while serving the remaining four months of his term. The chamber opposes the scheduling bill.
Orange maintained that he had never been in discussions with the chamber about his new post when the bill was delayed. But critics charged that Orange faced a conflict of interest, leading Orange to step down on the day that he assumed his chamber job. Last week, the D.C. Democratic Party appointed Robert White (D), who beat Orange in the June primary, to fulfill the remaining months of Orange’s term. White is overwhelmingly favored to win the seat in the November general election.