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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Fair Workweek: Stories from roundtable discussion and next steps

In Portland, we have set the example for rest of Oregon when it comes to progressive, worker-friendly labor policies. Portland has led the state with paid sick leave and paid family leave adopted policies, putting pressure on the State Legislature to prioritize similar statewide policies. Oregon also passed a much needed increase to the minimum wage. At $14.75 by 2022, Oregon will have the highest minimum wage in the nation. As we increase the minimum wage, however, we also have to look at other ways to ensure low wage workers can get a full paycheck and tolerable working condition. 

A few years ago, I first started reading about the terrible problems that new scheduling software has created for many workers, especially retail and restaurant employees. The software—now commonly used by many national franchises— is hailed by company execs for its ability to keenly manage workers’ schedules to keep payroll expenses and overhead low. However, these automated computer programs often schedule people for random shifts and then notify workers at the last minute, making it impossible for them to organize their lives, or to have any flexibility to arrange child care and attend college classes.

After learning about these practices, I wondered if Portlanders were also experiencing these same abuses and began researching to find out. Working with my friends at UFCW Local 555 and the Working Families Party of Oregon, we began doing outreach to workers to identify what exactly workers are facing locally.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several low wage workers from the retail, hospitality, and service sectors of Portland’s workforce. These workers shared heartbreaking stories of their experiences with unpredictable scheduling practices. Some workers shared stories of being away from their children due to unpredictable double shifts; others shared stories about retaliation by employers after asking for a schedule that fits with their other job or college courses.

After getting the permission from a few of these workers, I’d like to share these compelling stories of Portlanders experiencing unfair work schedules (names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who shared their stories):

AMANDA

Amanda got a job at a coffee shop after fleeing an abusive relationship. She had an option under victim protection to either keep her apartment or get out of the lease, and Amanda decided to stay there, but she had to have a second job to afford it. The coffee shop promised her a morning shift during the week. Amanda already had a job at a hotel, and she needed the second job at the coffee shop so she could make enough money to afford the apartment and other living expenses.

Working two jobs was very difficult in part because the job at the coffee shop promised her one schedule, but when she began working, that schedule immediately changed. For a while, she couldn’t take many shifts at her hotel job because her coffee shop shifts ended at the same time she would have needed to start at the hotel, leaving no commute time.

Amanda also said she’d give the hotel her availability, actually get scheduled for hours, and then the coffee shop would change the schedule on her all of sudden – creating conflicts. Later, the coffee shop changed her schedule so she started at 3:30 a.m., and she was able to work more hours at the hotel. While she was glad to be able to earn more, this meant she worked very long days with only three or four hours of rest for up to three days at a time.

She says that when she finally had a day off, she started setting an automatic alarm clock every morning because she would sometimes lay down for a nap and end up sleeping for hours. Amanda held these two jobs for two years and was glad to be able to quit the coffee shop job when her living situation changed – but she still struggles to pay her rent when she doesn’t get as many hours at the hotel as she needs.

PATRICK

Patrick is a single parent of a two year old girl named Jennifer, who is, he says, the love of his life. He’s worked as a driver-helper on a really tight schedule for about two years for a company that caters flights at the airport. Driver-helpers are under a lot of pressure to keep flights on time, because every minute a flight is delayed costs the company money. Patrick normally works 10 hour days, 5 days a week, 50 hours a week or more. He’s even worked up to 76 hours in a week.

One day, Patrick had just gotten off a shift at 3:00pm when he was stopped by a manger.

She said, “I need to talk to you.”

Patrick said, “What did I do now?”

She said, “It’s not like that.”

Even though she had said that, Patrick still felt defensive. She told him he was going to take over a new shift.

He asked her, “Starting when?” and she said, “Tomorrow morning at 6:00am.”

Patrick asked her, “Were you even going to tell me?”

She replied, “I’d figure you’d say yes anyways.”

Even though Patrick had already worked a 12-hour day— starting at 1am getting off at 3pm— Patrick was supposed to be back at work at 6am and needed to take care of his daughter. The next morning, he woke up late and still worked an 8-hour shift. The manager wrote him up for oversleeping. This has happened to Patrick seven other times.

Whatever the team needs, Patrick does. He’s a selfless and hardworking employee, but his work ethic sometimes hurts Patrick’s personal life. He misses his little girl, and his bowling game suffers. Most of all, he just doesn’t get enough rest. Patrick is tired all the time. When he does get a day off, it takes him a whole day just to recover before having to go back to work. If he could wave a magic wand, he’d change this to be treated fairly and like a person— a person who has a family and a life outside of work.

SARAH

Sarah, a Certified Nursing Assistant in Portland, averages thirty-two hours of work a week. However, those hours are unpredictably scheduled, and she’s expected to maintain open availability to work additional hours. She often has less than 24 hours’ notice of her schedule, and it is not uncommon for Sarah to arrive to work only to be turned away.

Sarah’s unpredictable schedule has major impacts on her family. She and her husband struggle with childcare and with spending quality family time with each other. They are constantly anxious about getting scheduled at the same time and before the daycare center opens. She and her husband have even been written up at work because without adequate notice of their schedules, they did not have enough time to coordinate childcare and were late to work because they had to wait for the daycare center opens to drop off their daughter.

Sarah loves her family. She wishes she had to more time with them. When she is not working she is often sleep deprived and feels like she has to choose between getting one or two hours of sleep or spending time with her daughter.

These are just three of the outrageous and incredibly powerful stories I heard last week. If you have experienced similar challenges with your work schedule, I encourage you to share your story.

Fair workweek laws are one strategy we must consider to move us toward better worker protections. If a worker is scheduled for a shift and is sent home at the last minute, the employee should be compensated - it's their time, and it's that simple. Currently, the Legislature has preempted cities from adopting any laws related to employee scheduling through July 2017 in order to attempt to pass a statewide bill during the 2017 session. I'll be watching Salem closely, and I hope they are able to pass a strong statewide bill in 2017.