Washingtonians have witnessed historic change to neighborhoods and streetscapes over the past two decades. The renewal of struggling neighborhoods and the development of properties and blocks that had long been void of economic activity have created thousands of new retail storefronts and jobs for DC residents as national retailers made unprecedented investments in the district. Whether it's the Target in Columbia Heights or the Costco in northeast DC, retailers are playing a critical role in anchoring new developments and attracting restaurants and small businesses back into our neighborhoods.
During this period of unprecedented growth, property developers, retailers and city government have worked collaboratively to balance the interests of job providers and taxpayers. In many cases, through smart growth policies and strategic investments in transit and infrastructure, DC government has been the catalyst for new development and private-sector job creation. These developments have literally transformed many district neighborhoods, and the new jobs, shopping and dining opportunities have attracted young people and families to move back into the district after decades of migration to the suburbs.
But much of this progress could grind to a halt if the DC City Council passes a disastrous and ill-conceived new law aimed at punishing large retailers that do business in the city.
At issue is legislation often referred to as "predictive scheduling"--and it would disrupt the operations of virtually every large retailer and restaurant chain in the district. The stated intentions of those pushing the legislation seem harmless--at its core are regulations that would require retailers to post employee schedules 21 days in advance. Who doesn't want to know their schedule in advance? Seems harmless, right? But as with most government intrusions into the private sector, the devil is in the details. And the details would hurt those most in need of economic opportunities.
First, the law unfairly singles out retailers and restaurants; it sends a profoundly negative signal to these industries that the jobs, payroll and tax revenue they generate in the district are somehow less valued by DC government. Given the role these industries have played in the revitalization of many of our communities, this would be a tremendous mistake.
More egregious than the targeted nature of the legislation are the details of the policy itself. This law, if enacted, would penalize employers for communicating with their employees about their schedule inside a 21-day window. So if an employee calls in sick, the city government punishes the business if they ask another employee if they would like to pick up the shift. Or if an employee wanted to swap shifts with another employee because of a family commitment or unforeseen obligation, the employer would be punished for trying to facilitate such a request. This type of request happens routinely in any retail establishment--in fact, that flexibility is one of the things most retail employees like about their jobs. But if the city council acts on this misguided scheduling legislation, retailers would have no choice but to deny this flexibility to their employees. You can't have flexible leave policies but then tie an employer's hands from implementing them--it just doesn't work in the real world.
But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the bill is language that makes it difficult for retailers and restaurants to hire new workers, particularly seasonal or part-time help. Besides being unworkable and a serious intrusion into a private employer's operations, this provision would make it harder for retailers to hire young, first-time workers, as well as seniors looking for a part-time job. It would make it virtually impossible for large retailers and restaurants to participate in DC's Summer Jobs program for high school students. It would also make hiring part-time employees during the holiday season or other busy periods of the year untenable. Anyone who looks forward to a part-time, flexible job to make a few extra bucks during the holiday season would likely be out of luck next time if the council moves forward with this law.
This new scheduling law is a solution in search of a problem, and its impact on those it professes to help will be far worse than any perceived ills its proponents suggest need fixing. Many retail and restaurant employees enjoy the flexibility they currently have--taking it away will not only hurt those employees but it will serve as a giant caution sign for businesses considering creating or expanding their presence in the district. Laws such as these discourage development, and if passed, it will undoubtedly cause some job providers to rethink plans to create new jobs in our city.
National retailers and restaurants have brought thousands of jobs and generated millions of dollars in tax revenue for the District of Columbia. Let's not stall DC's progress by passing laws that punish and discourage investment in our city. To keep DC moving forward, the city council should reject the so-called predictive scheduling bill. The only thing predictive about this legislation is the negative impact it will ultimately have on the district, our neighborhoods and its residents.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is president and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women and former Counsel to the U.S. Congress' District of Columbia Sub-Committee on the Judiciary and Education.