Workers only know their schedules at the last minute. It’s a big problem
The proportion of workers reporting on-call shifts, where they are required to be available if needed but not paid for their time, last-minute changes to shifts, and “closings” – the same worker closing the store then opening it the next day — resembled those experienced in the years before the pandemic.
“Along with the health risks, uncertainty and stress of working during a pandemic, many service sector workers continue to face chronically unpredictable and unstable work schedules,” said the researchers, led by sociologists Daniel Schneider and Kristen Harknett, in a memoir.
Since 2017, Project Shift researchers have conducted biannual online surveys of 110,000 hourly workers at about 150 of the largest retail and fast food chains in the United States. The latest surveys were conducted in the fall of 2020, and researchers looked at workers’ schedules before and during the pandemic. They found little improvement.
Unstable schedules can harm workers and their families: Other research has shown that unpredictable work schedules can impact everything from workers’ health and well-being to their children’s sleep schedules and school attendance.
The impact of inconsistent schedules
“It’s made life a lot easier. I’m a lot more confident. I’m a lot more comfortable. I’m better rested,” Slaughter said. “I don’t have to worry about being stuck at work and not being able to pick up my baby.”
Dollar General did not respond to request for comment.
Uncertain schedules and fluctuating hours pose a host of challenges for Isabela Burrows, a PetSmart worker in Howell, Michigan, and member of labor advocacy group United for Respect. She has to schedule her second job and online college classes around her irregular schedule at PetSmart.
PetSmart said it does its best to accommodate workers’ scheduling preferences and give them as much notice as possible. The company said its scheduling practices balance the needs of customers, stores and workers.
“If I had a regular schedule, I could schedule more time for homework and helping my family.”
Fair work week legislation
People of color are overrepresented in the service sector, and research from the Shift Project found that “racial inequality in schedule reviews has widened during the pandemic.”
Workers of color were more likely than white workers to report being notified less than two weeks in advance of their schedule during the pandemic and more likely to work on call. These disparities may arise because managers often control schedules, “allowing for conscious or unconscious bias and unequal treatment,” the researchers said.
Lawmakers have begun to address the erratic schedules of retail and service workers.
By comparing workers in Seattle to those at the same companies in similar cities, the researchers found that schedule predictability and stability made a positive difference in workers’ lives.
“The law also had important downstream benefits,” the report says, “improving workers’ sleep, economic security, and overall happiness.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the store location of Dollar General employee Kenya Slaughter. She works in a store in Alexandria, Louisiana.