Time for change

Retail Workers Bill of Rights calls for labor improvements beyond a higher minimum wage

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news@sfbg.com

Christy Price doesn't want to work forever. At 60, the security guard has worked in formula retail stores for 25 years. She says she has trouble making a living due to cuts in her work schedule, a setback that could prevent her from retiring for the foreseeable future.

Price, who has been with her current company for a decade, works at various retailers her company contracts with. Her shift from full- to part-time work is typical for employees of formula retailers in the city, many of whom are half Price's age and attempting to support families or make their way through college.

"I'm more or less in the same predicament as [the retail workers], in terms of hours," Price said. "It's scary, and it's awful sad. You've got people who want to work and contribute, but they aren't given the opportunity."

Sup. Eric Mar's recently proposed Retail Workers Bill of Rights aims to change that. Unveiled at a July 29 press conference at San Francisco City Hall, the legislation seeks to boost prospects for retail workers "held hostage by on-call scheduling, diminished hours and discriminatory treatment by employers," according to a statement issued by Mar's office. There are also plans to expand the legislation to include employees of formula retail contractors, like Price.

"We're here today because raising the minimum wage isn't enough," Jobs with Justice Retail Campaign Organizer Michelle Lim said at the press conference. That same day, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a measure on the November ballot to raise the San Francisco minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.

The current trend is for retail employers to hire part-time workers, spreading the hours thin and requiring employees to be on call for many more hours of work than they actually receive. That creates unpredictable schedules, making it difficult for workers to pay the bills.

Having stable work hours makes it possible for formula retail employees to plan for other parts of their lives, like earning college degrees, spending time with family or working other jobs — which is often a necessity for lower wage workers. Plus, as Price notes, companies with too many part-time employees aren't getting the most out of their workers.

"If you keep undercutting them and cutting their hours, you're not going to get the customer service that you're looking for," Price said. "You're going to get what you pay for. You do need that skill; some people can do it, some people can't."

At the press conference, Mar was joined by fellow lead sponsor Board President David Chiu and co-sponsor Sup. John Avalos, along with speakers from local labor advocacy groups and a host of current and former formula retail workers.

As Lim explained, the proposed Bill of Rights package has four provisions. The first calls for "promoting full-time work and access to hours." It would require formula retail employers to offer additional hours of work to current part-time employees, before hiring additional part-timers.

That would help prevent situations like those mentioned by retail employees speaking at the press conference. One Gap employee noted that part-time workers are often expected to commit to up to 30 hours of availability a week, yet would only be offered as little as 10 hours, despite being required to remain on call.

Another formula retail employee, Brian Quick, had a particularly rough experience while working for Old Navy at the clothing retailer's flagship store. Having worked in retail for four years, he said his schedule for the upcoming week would come out on Thursday night, and the hours constantly fluctuated.

"It's hard to plan anything such as doctor appointments when you aren't even sure when you work," Quick said. "Some weeks I would work 35 hours, and the next I'd get 15 hours. How am I supposed to pay bills?"