Oregon Wants to Regulate Flexible Work Schedules Out of Existence

"Fair Work Week" would penalize employers and likely cost jobs, hours, and employee flexibility.


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State Sen. Michael Dembrow wants Oregon to be the first state in the union to micromanage workers' schedules.

Dembrow's 'fair work week' bill, requiring employers to provide worker schedules one week in advance (and two weeks by 2020) and pay workers extra if shifts are added, removed, or changed, is quickly working its way through the legislature.

Nearly identical laws have been passed locally in San Francisco and Seattle.

Dembrow (D-Portland) says his bill will give workers "stability to know when to schedule childcare, second jobs, college classes and other aspects of everyday life."

Creating 'stability' through regulation, however, comes at a cost. Employers' workplace needs change suddenly, sometimes shift to shift, for all sorts of reasons. Dembrow would like to penalize them for responding to those changes.

The penalty might be triggered by the request of an employee, according to a University of Washington (UW) study commissioned to measure the impact of Seattle's "secure scheduling" ordinance. The study found 80 percent of managers had within the previous two weeks of being surveyed changed schedules at the request of employees.

The reasons were as simple as illness (28 percent), recreation time (18.6 percent), or caring for a sick child (18 percent).

"Flexibility is a benefit all our employees enjoy," one West Seattle manager told survey takers. "Employees' needs dictate our schedule." Penalties for changing schedules on short notice, the manager said, would "take control of schedules away from the workers."

In San Francisco, the only city to implement scheduling regulations so far, 35 percent of managers in a study said they had responded to their city's scheduling law by reducing flexibility in hours.

The study found one-fifth of businesses reported hiring fewer part-time workers after the scheduling law went into effect. A similar number said they were making do with fewer workers per shift, and 17 percent said they had cut back employment of full and part-time staff.

Seattle workers—30 percent of whom said in the UW study that they'd want more work at their current jobs—will likely see similar hours reductions when that city's "secure scheduling" ordinance is implemented July 1.

Jacob Vigdor, author of the UW study, said in an email to Reason, "Quite a few employees reported that their employer scaled back hours in order to avoid the ACA employer health care obligation."

That means the many Oregon workers who wrote and testified in favor of Fair Work Week legislation in the hopes of getting more hours, would likely see the opposite should the bill pass.

Oregon employers, too would be less likely to grant days off for private or family matters if it meant having to call in a more expensive employee. They would also be more likely to simply hire fewer workers, and give their current ones fewer hours.

The attempt to give workers more hours through regulation also ignores the fact that many workers are not getting enough hours because of regulation. State level ordinances add to the problem. In the past year Oregon has passed a sizable minimum wage increase and mandated paid sick leave.

"To add more regulations requiring our payroll costs to go up will force us to reduce our staff to compensate," said Cindy Ertell, of Oregon Coffee Roasters, in written testimony to the Oregon Senate. "We don't want to have to do that."

Despite these problems, Oregon's Fair Work Week has received healthy bi-partisan support both in the Senate, which passed it last week, and in the House where its moved out of committee with near unanimous approval.

Should it pass as expected, some Oregonians might get a fairer worker week. Others might have no work week at all.