Not everyone works in an office. You can’t telecommute to a warehouse. And if your job doesn’t offer stable or predictable work hours, you can’t just decide to adjust your schedule to improve your commute.
Employers in our region can do more to help their employees ride out the upcoming Seattle Squeeze — no matter what kind of work they do.
As the three-week shutdown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct gets underway, public agencies and some large companies have launched a comprehensive outreach campaign asking people in our region to consider telecommuting or shifting their work hours.
Here’s the catch: not everyone works in an office.
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You can’t telecommute to a warehouse. And if your job doesn’t offer stable or predictable work hours, you can’t just decide to adjust your schedule to improve your commute.
There are hundreds of thousands of people in our region who work in food service, retail, warehouses, caregiving, delivery, and other fields that require them to show up at their workplace to do their job.
At Working Washington and Fair Work Center, our job is to advance the interests of all workers, in all kinds of industries. We hear about scheduling issues daily. And we know there are specific things employers can do to offer relief to these employees, too:
- Provide at least two weeks’ notice of work schedules. Employees will need extra time to plan their lives, accommodate caregiving needs, and adjust their commutes given the level of congestion and increased travel-time expected.
- Set a minimum shift length of at least four hours. Extended commute times will make short shifts particularly hard on employees, and fewer shift changes means less trips in the region.
- Do not rely on on-call shifts. Employees should not be expected to come to work without notice and arrive within a short time of being called in.
- Accommodate workers who need to modify their availability. Employers should go the extra mile to adjust employees’ schedules to accommodate transportation challenges, and plan more shift overlap to account for added unpredictability in travel times.
- Establish employee-to-employee shift swapping systems. Employees should be allowed to trade shifts with co-workers (including those who work at different locations), so they can provide additional flexibility to each other.
- Waive discipline for employees who arrive late to work due to transportation. Employees should not be penalized for our region’s transportation squeeze, including through the application of “points” in occurrence-based discipline systems, or algorithmic management systems.
- Contribute to employees’ transportation costs. This can greatly increase transit ridership, reducing traffic impacts for everyone.
- Audit for compliance with Seattle’s secure scheduling ordinance. Large food and retail chains doing business in Seattle are already obligated by law to provide advance notice, pay for on-call shifts, accommodate transportation-related scheduling needs, and more.
A lot of this stuff might sound basic — and that’s the point. It’s simply about recognizing that workers are humans who have lives to live, families to care for, and priorities to juggle. Their time counts, too.
But that isn’t the day-to-day experience of the people doing these jobs in our region. In fact, academic researchers with the Shift Project recently found that a quarter of people in the service industry in our state work on-call shifts, and less than half get even two weeks’ notice of their schedules.
These kinds of scheduling practices have significant health and financial impacts all year round. During the Seattle Squeeze, it will be even more severe.
And yet this whole class of workers has been left out of our regional conversation so far. Even the Commute Seattle initiative, backed by numerous public agencies and business groups, limits its recommendations to promoting telework and altered work schedules. No doubt these are helpful steps, and it’s great to see that companies like Nordstrom, Chase Bank, and Amazon have publicly signed on.
But these same companies also employ thousands of retail workers, bank tellers, warehouse workers, and delivery drivers. These workers deserve attention — and secure schedules — too.