Elizabeth Warren Wants To Help Workers With Unpredictable Schedules

The presidential candidate is proposing protections for part-time shift workers, many of whom are in low-wage jobs in the retail and food industries.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president in 2020, has a plan to protect millions of part-time shift workers by forcing companies to make their schedules more predictable.

Warren announced her “Fair Workweek” plan on Monday, which includes requiring employers with 15 or more employees in the retail, food, hospitality and other industries to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of their schedules and compensate workers for any changes.

Under the proposal, employers would also have to consider workers’ scheduling requests “in good faith” and provide a reason for not approving them. It also would provide certain benefits to part-time workers ― who often don’t receive benefits as full-time workers do ― such as access to paid family leave if they’ve worked somewhere for over a year, and access to retirement plans if they’ve worked over 500 hours for a company for two years or more.

Warren lamented that many largely low-wage workers have “unpredictable work schedules that leave them with too few hours to afford necessities and no control over their time,” per a release from her team.

There are over 27 million part-time workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a study from the University of California, Berkeley, that surveyed 30,000 employees at 120 large retail and food-service companies in the U.S., two-thirds of workers reported getting less than two weeks’ notice for shifts, with one-third getting less than one week’s notice. And about 1 in 7 workers said they’d had at least one shift canceled in the last month.

Researchers with UC Berkeley’s “The Shift Project” pointed out that unpredictable work schedules can make it hard for parents to find suitable child care, and that a canceled shift can mean a harmful loss in expected wages for people who are paid by the hour.

As Warren’s team noted, Black and Latinx workers — particularly women, who are disproportionately represented in the retail and food industries — “bear the brunt” of schedule instability.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks after joining striking Stop & Shop supermarket employees on the picket line on April 12, 2019, in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks after joining striking Stop & Shop supermarket employees on the picket line on April 12, 2019, in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Warren’s plan comes a month after the senator reintroduced the Schedules That Work Act in Congress, first introduced in 2015, which would require that companies give workers additional pay if they don’t provide two weeks’ notice of their schedules, or if they send workers home early on slow days, among other protections.

In recent years, the state of Oregon and some major cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle have passed similar “fair workweek” laws to give workers more control over their schedules.

Warren has proposed other plans meant to benefit low-wage workers, including establishing a higher minimum wage and “Medicare for All.”

Other Democratic presidential contenders have also put out plans meant to support workers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who rolled out a sweeping proposal in August to give federal workers the “right to strike” and make it easier to form unions.