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Philadelphia City Council votes to protect laid-off hospitality workers. More cities need to follow

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The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry, with the fallout still growing. This week the Philadelphia City Council took steps to protect workers when the economic recovery begins, unanimously passing legislation to give laid-off hospitality workers the right to be rehired when jobs start coming back. 

The bill could eventually help 12,000 Philadelphia hotel housekeepers, stadium attendants, airport food workers, and more. The Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package requires employers to offer laid-off workers jobs in order of seniority within their departments, with protection for cases where a contractor at a larger venue changes or a hotel changes ownership.

”This legislation protects our industry’s workers from any unscrupulous employers who might dare to use this pandemic to further their financial interests … at the expense of long-term employees who are overwhelmingly Black and are overwhelmingly female,” said UNITE HERE Local 273 President Rosslyn Wuchinich.

That’s a blow workers at Boston’s Revere Hotel are feeling right now—and legislation they could use from Boston lawmakers. Back in May, when HEI Hotels and Resorts furloughed the workers, it assured them, “Your date of hire will remain the same, since HEI recognizes your past service at the hotel.” But in November, HEI sent a different message: “We will be using the end of this year, December 31, to rescind earlier messaging on rehiring employees who were employed at the hotel prior to the HEI Hotels and Resorts transition,” a letter from human resources said. But hey, “when business does return to our hotel later in the year, we will post job openings to the public and if you are interested in applying at that time we will be happy to consider your application as a potential new hire.”

Some of the workers getting this message had worked at the hotel for decades.

“This is an industry that has already benefited from one bailout, it’s asking to benefit from the next bailout and frankly, it costs zero dollars to make a commitment that if someone’s job is recreated, they get that job back,” UNITE HERE Local 26 President Carlos Aramayo said. “The only reason I could see that a hotel would want to do this is that they want to hire a different person, maybe a younger person, maybe a person who is not a person of color.” Aramayo, whose union does not represent the Revere Hotel workers but is advocating for them, is concerned that hotels are using the pandemic as a chance to slash wages and benefits—not just now, but permanently.

Workers need protections that Congress isn’t going to give them, at least with Sen. Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate. A patchwork of protections across cities and states is a terrible form of government, but at least Philadelphia is taking steps to help its vulnerable workers. Other cities should take notice.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Philadelphia Just Passed the Strongest Fair Scheduling Law in the Nation

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Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, just enacted the most sweeping bill yet to give low-wage workers some control over their schedules.

The city’s new law, which passed the city council on Thursday, will require businesses with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations worldwide to provide employees their schedules at least 10 days in advance. If any changes are made to their schedules after that, employers will owe employees more money. Employers will also be required to offer more hours as they become available to existing employees who want them rather than hiring new people, and they’ll be banned from retaliating against those who either request or decline more hours.

The law is poised to have a huge impact: A recent survey conducted by UC Berkeley found that among food and retail sector workers in Philadelphia, 62 percent receive their schedules less than two weeks ahead of time and two-thirds work irregular or variable schedules. Almost half usually work 30 hours or less each week even though less than 15 percent have a second job to supplement their incomes.

“It seems that employers are being less and less cognizant of their workers’ needs and home lives,” noted Nadia Hewka, an employment lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which advocated for the bill. “This would just put a little bit of balance back into that equation.”

The effort to help workers control their schedules started around a year ago, when advocates convened to discuss how Philadelphia could take action on its own to improve living standards for its residents. “Philadelphia is a very high-poverty city,” Hewka noted. More than a quarter of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. So advocates were interested in “anything that we can do to raise the bottom just a little bit.” But thanks to a state preemption law, the city can’t raise the minimum wage—that power is reserved for the state government. So the city council has turned to a number of other measures that can make life for working people easier: paid sick leave, an anti-wage theft ordinance, a salary history ban, ban the box legislation and now a fair scheduling law.

“What I know is that I can’t be paralyzed just because the state has limited our capacity to be able to directly raise the minimum wage,” said Helen Gym, the first-term councilmember who introduced the fair workweek bill. “We have to talk about other things that impact people’s lives and could also improve them.”

The former community organizer came into the council looking for something that could “really grapple with this incredibly vast and intractable situation around deep and entrenched poverty in our city.” As she spoke with low-wage workers and those who work with them—teachers, lawyers, anti-poverty advocates—everyone brought up how unstable schedules were disrupting people’s lives. “This was a major, major issue,” she said.

“As a municipality, we have to do something,” she added. “We have the authority and the responsibility to act here as one of the largest cities in the country.” Her colleagues apparently agreed: “It has been one of the most popular bills to move through our council in a while,” she said.

While other places, such as Oregon, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar scheduling legislation, Philadelphia’s goes further by covering workers in all industries, not just those in retail. “Of all the bills that exist around the country, ours will be the most far-reaching,” Gym noted. Hewka credits the involvement of UNITE HERE Philly, which represents hotel and restaurant workers and advocated for the bill.  

Hewka sees the new law as an anti-poverty measure.  It’s difficult “when you don’t know how many hours you’re working and how much you’ll be earning by the end of the week or the end of the month to make the bills you need to make,” she said. Someone’s income isn’t just determined by her wage, but by how many hours she works. A more predictable set of hours, and the ability to get more as they become available, can make a big difference.

And there are other benefits to a steady schedule. Hewka noted that many people feel that if minimum wage workers don’t like their pay they should get better jobs. “How are you supposed to improve your lot in life and go to school if your class schedules are set and your work schedule always changes?” Hewka noted. It’s also nearly impossible to hold down a second job to make ends meet if the first one is constantly shifting.

The bind is particularly tight for parents. “When [workers] are not allowed to have a say in their schedules,” Hewka said, “it impacts their entire family.” One big hurdle is finding childcare to fit a work schedule when that work schedule is constantly shifting.

On top of that, parents have to get their children to school, doctors’ offices, after-school activities and other appointments. Poor families are also often navigating the demands of welfare offices or child services, Hewka pointed out, all of which typically require daytime appointments. “All of these systems assume that you’re available to do these tasks,” she said. She has even had clients fail to show up to meetings in her office because they had to be at work instead.

“Jobs don’t recognize [workers’] humanity, let alone these kinds of demands on their lives,” she added. “You’re spinning plates up in the air with all of these things in your life. A work schedule changing can really cause everything to come crashing down.”

Gym hopes not just to improve Philadelphians’ working lives, but to make a bigger impact. “We’re trying to change the way in which we talk about poverty and the nature of work these days,” she said. “Not only did we set a standard for what happens around the state, but we sent a message across the nation that we need to see an economic justice agenda.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on December 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert, a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has written for The New Republic, The Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, New York Magazine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus.


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Philadelphia may be next city to pass a fair workweek law

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On-call scheduling is one of the worst common and legal abuses inflicted on service workers that non-service workers may know nothing about. The practice, in which bosses don’t give workers set schedules but force them to be available at the drop of a hat, can make it virtually impossible to hold a second job; hugely complicates childcare arrangements for workers who are parents; and means that workers don’t know what their income will be week to week. Laws to curb the worst scheduling abuses have started to gain some momentum, but they’re still rare.

Philadelphia, though, may become the next city to pass a fair workweek bill, with a measure introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym scheduled for Dec. 6 city council vote:

The bill requires eligible employers to start giving their employees a good-faith estimate of their work schedule when they’re hired. That doesn’t have to be a precise weekly schedule, but it must include things like the average number of work hours employees will be scheduled on each week, whether they’ll be needed for on-call shifts, and times they can and cannot be expected to work. Starting in 2020, eligible employers will also have to post detailed work schedules 10 days in advance; that time frame changes to 14 days in 2021. If hours aren’t included in the designated work schedule, employees can decline to work them.

What gives Philly’s bill teeth is that, if employers change the posted work schedule after that 10 or 14 day limit, they’ll also have to pay the employee a “predictability pay” fee, in addition to the employee’s hourly wage for the hours in question.

Philadelphia would join New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, and Emeryville, California, as well as the state of Oregon in having a fair workweek law.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on December 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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Public transportation is a jobs and equality issue

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Public transportation is a jobs issue. If you don’t believe that, take a look at Philadelphia, where lack of efficient mass transit from the city to the suburbs is keeping a lot of people out of work—and a coalition of progressive and religious groups is pushing the city to offer improved options:

The coalition says SEPTA’s system centers on an outdated reality: suburban dweller commuting to city job. In 1970, about half of the region’s jobs were based in Philadelphia, the coalition said in a letter to Council. By 2013, only one in four jobs were in Philadelphia, as urban employment declined and suburban jobs increased. Meanwhile, the city has a higher unemployment rate, 6 percent in March, compared to suburban rates of 3.5 percent to 4.4 percent.

Workers trying to get from the city to the suburbs for jobs face long commutes. Looooong. Just 24 percent of jobs in the area are accessible within 90 minutes on public transit. That’s a major obstacle:

Another survey, by Temple University’s Institute of Survey Research, found that lack of transportation was the biggest barrier to employment, with 39 percent of respondents below the poverty line saying that not being able to get to work was more of an obstacle than a criminal history, child care problems or language barriers.

That’s just one more way infrastructure investment—the kind Donald Trump isn’t interested in making—boosts employment.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on June 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. and Labor editor since 2011.


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Philadelphia Joins the Growing List of State/Local Governments Passing Paid Sick Days Laws

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Kenneth QuinnellThe city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:

“The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.”

The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault.  While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.

As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:

“Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vast majority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’t hurt local economies and, in fact, many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.”

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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