Retail workers in LA to get more protection

The Los Angeles City Council passed new legislation on Tuesday that requires large retailers to give workers at least two weeks notice of their employment schedule — a move intended to give workers more certainty about their hours.

The law, known as the Fair Work Week regulation, also requires companies to give workers at least 10 hours of rest between shifts, or to pay extra for that work.

Software used by retail stores can predict consumer demand, allowing employers to add or reduce staff. But that can mean unpredictable schedules for workers, union leaders and activists say.

The new law was pushed by the union-affiliated group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Other cities including San Francisco, Seattle and New York have passed similar measures.

Heidy Lopez, who works at a Food 4 Less grocery store in Canoga Park, said her work schedule “changes all the time,” making it difficult to plan her week.

She also had instances where she worked late and had to be back in the shop by 6am – a practice of “coopening” where workers close a shop late at night and come back in the morning to open it.

At one point, she worked full-time at Food 4 Less, but switched to part-time when her boss told her she might need to come over the weekend.

“My priority is being home and being at church,” said Lopez, 37.

Stuart Waldman, president of Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., was among those who criticized the new law. He predicted that this would hurt employers because they could face penalties, for example, if a worker took an unexpected day off.

“This regulation is a unified approach that was pushed through without debate or economic analysis,” Waldman said. “This is an example of not legislating.”

The city council voted to pass the bill in 2019, but passage of the final ordinance was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the council’s attention to forcing grocery chains to pay their workers so-called “hero’s wages.”

A UCLA study released in 2018 found that eight out of 10 retail workers have fluctuating workweeks that they have no control over. The study found that around 77% of retail workers are informed of their working hours or changes to their working hours less than a week in advance.

Union activists and other advocates argue that the unpredictability of work hours makes caring for children, elderly parents and attending classes more difficult and leads to financial insecurity.

City Councilman Curren Price said around 70,000 LA workers would be affected by the law. Many of those workers are black, women and heads of households, he said.

“As the holiday shopping season begins, we are reminded of our responsibility to support and protect our retail and food workers, many of whom have been on the front lines during this pandemic,” Price told colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting.

Alaina Pangelina, 33, worked at clothing giant H&M until 2020. She said she would be working 40 hours in a few weeks. Other weeks, her schedule dropped to 19 hours, she said.

Pangelina said she also saw workers brought in unexpectedly, who had to pay a night nurse to look after elderly parents who could not be left alone.

“We want to work and we want to work more,” she said. But the unpredictability of work hours “really affects workers’ lives,” she said.

The law requires an employer to provide each new employee with a “good faith written estimate of the employee’s work schedule.”

Retailers are also required to give an employee “notice in writing of the employee’s work schedule at least 14 calendar days before the start of the working time”.

The law also requires that before an employer hires a new employee or uses a contractor, temp agency, or temp agency, it must first offer the work to qualified, current employees.

The law would apply to Los Angeles retail businesses with at least 300 employees worldwide, including chains like Target, Ralphs and Home Depot.

Employers who break the law, which goes into effect in April, could face fines of up to $50 a day.

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