Six out of every ten Californians with incomes below the poverty line (less than $25,000 for a family of four) live in a working family.
Working for low-wages not only leaves working families with not enough money to last the month, it also means they go without their basic needs met. According Shelved: How Wages and Working Conditions for California’s Food Retail Workers have Declined as the Industry has Thrived, authored by Saru Jayaraman of U.C. Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center and co-founder/co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and U.C. Davis Associate Professor of Community and Regional Development Chris Benner, many low-income workers in the retail industry and food retail industry were paid so little that they were unable to afford enough food to prevent hunger for them and their family.
While low-wages is the major driver of working poverty in California, the lack of fair scheduling contributes to the problem. According to a study conducted by the University of Chicago, just 59 percent of early-career workers in hourly jobs were notified of their work schedule more than 7 days in advance. This lack of schedule accountability of employers leaves their employees unable to utilize strategies necessary to climb out of poverty, like taking on a second job or enrolling in educational or training certification courses.
What’s more, when worker schedules are not predictable, workers experience more stress at work and at home and workers who are also family caregivers are less able to maintain steady employment. According to a report co-authored by the Center for Law and Social Policy, lacking the right to predictable scheduling increases family instability and contributes to poor school performance among children in working families. One report of the retail industry found that more than half of family caregivers in the retail industry must be available for on-call shifts, forcing them to arrange for child or elder care at the last minute and to rely on substandard care or none at all.
When workers’ income falls short, or they lose a job because they were unable to meet on-call work demands, they are often forced to seek food or basic needs assistance through California’s safety-net programs. In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 42% of food stamp recipients live in working families. Ironically, these workers face additional barriers when they apply because of their inability to schedule unpaid time off necessary to attend to the paperwork and requisite interviews.
California can and should to better for hourly workers and their families. By passing the Fair Scheduling Act, introduced today by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), workers throughout the state will be given the decency of knowing their schedules two weeks in advance, being paid for work hours lost due to a last minute schedule changes, and the right to schedule un-paid time off in order to attend to applications for public assistance benefits when their wages fall short. Western Center on Law and Poverty is proud to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Counsel to support this common sense bill to establish the right of workers to schedule ahead to keep them from falling behind.