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Disney Store and other retailers ditch on-call scheduling

Shoppers pass the Disney store while making their way through Concord Mills Mall in Concord, N.C. in 2009. (Chris Keane/Bloomberg News)

In recent years, many retail and restaurant chains have turned to on-call scheduling, a practice in which employees must be prepared to come in for a shift, but could find out at the last minute that they don’t have to report to work.

It’s a strategy that helps companies keep a lid on costs but has drawn fierce criticism from labor advocates, who say it makes life unnecessarily difficult for workers to coordinate child care and juggle other personal commitments.

Now, several big chains are walking away from the practice after an inquiry by a group of state attorneys general from across the country.

The New York attorney general’s office said Monday that Aeropostale, Disney, PacSun, Zumiez and Carter’s have each ceased using this type of scheduling at their stores after discussions related to the probe — a move that benefits some 50,000 employees.

“On-call shifts are not a business necessity and should be a thing of the past. People should not have to keep the day open, arrange for child care, and give up other opportunities without being compensated for their time,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, in a statement. “I am pleased that these companies have stepped up to the plate and agreed to stop using this unfair method of scheduling.”

A spokeswoman for the Disney Store confirmed that the retailer abandoned on-call scheduling earlier this year, though she did not specify whether it was in response to the inquiry. A spokeswoman for David’s Tea confirmed that it has voluntarily agreed not to use on-call shifts anymore. PacSun declined to comment. Representatives for the other three retailers named in the attorney general’s press release did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The group of retailers is the latest in a growing list of defectors from the on-call scheduling system, which includes Victoria’s Secret, J. Crew and Urban Outfitters.

There has been an increasingly bright spotlight in recent years on retail scheduling models that create uncertainty for workers. While Starbucks did not use an on-call system, its scheduling practices drew criticism in 2014 when the New York Times profiled a Starbucks worker whose erratic hours were contributing to chaos in her personal life. The coffee giant revised its policies almost immediately after that story published, pledging to give workers at least one week’s notice of their hours.

The New York attorney general’s office said its latest inquiry also examined scheduling practices at stores such as Uniqlo, Coach, Justice and American Eagle. Those companies responded by saying that they had not been using the on-call set-up or had recently stopped doing so, officials said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Starbucks was among the list of retailer that had previously backed away from on-call scheduling. However, Starbucks has never used the on-call model.