This Labor Day, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret are setting a trend that other retailers need to follow — and it isn’t crop tops or bright floral prints.
Gap just became the latest retailer to promise that it will stop using on-call scheduling, a commitment that both Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret made earlier this summer.
On-call scheduling is a practice that wreaks havoc on employees’ lives by requiring them to be available for shifts that can be canceled, often hours before start time, with no pay. On-call means waiting at home and calling in to see if work is going to materialize or not.
Gap’s announcement is a major win for retail workers, since it is the largest operator of specialty clothing stores in the United States, and it will make this change at all five of its brands.
Workers in the retail and food service industries frequently work highly variable schedules — perhaps 10 hours one week and 30 the next — and are often given their schedules with only two or three days’ advance notice. They might be scheduled for mornings one week and evenings the next, or weekdays and then weekends. If business slows down, employees can be sent home early, losing the pay they counted on. This makes it difficult or impossible to arrange for child care, go to school, get a second job — or figure out how to pay the bills.
A volatile schedule doesn’t just create havoc for working parents, it also harms their children. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute suggests children’s language and problem-solving skills may suffer when their parents have unpredictable schedules, as well as a connection between parents’ schedules and children who have health issues or engage in risky behavior when they are older. Children do better when they know when their parents will be able to be with them.
Companies use “just in time” labor practices to maximize profits, but in the long run, there’s scant evidence that volatile scheduling saves money. In fact, these scheduling practices can lead to high turnover rates, which are costly in terms of customer satisfaction and wasted training dollars. Corporations that treat employees better have lower turnover rates and higher employee satisfaction, resulting in better performance.
And there are good examples for businesses to follow on this front. Costco, Trader Joe’s and QuikTrip, among others, have figured out how to run profitable businesses while giving workers stable, predictable schedules.
Ideally, businesses would end such scheduling practices on their own. But when businesses don’t act, policymakers must. Ten states and municipalities have recently enacted scheduling-related rules, and six others are considering them. A federal law has also been introduced.
This Labor Day, let’s relegate volatile scheduling to the dustbin of history. When we do, employees, their children and our communities will benefit.
Gloria Ortiz is a policy associate at Women Employed, a 42-year-old advocacy organization that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women. She can be reached email@example.com.
Copyright Gloria Ortiz