A ‘Fair Work Week’ For Shift Workers Could Be Coming To New Jersey

Supermajority Education Fund

February 6, 2020

Workers in the retail and service industries often struggle with unpredictable schedules that can change with little notice. The “Fair Work Week” bill, legislation introduced by New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg on Jan. 27, would give workers consistent work schedules and more control over their time. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the New Jersey Assembly.

“This isn’t merely a problem of overwork, it is one of uncertainty,” Weinberg said in October while discussing the bill. 

This bill would guarantee workers at least a 12 hour break before shifts, 14 days advance notice in terms of scheduling, and partial compensation for any canceled shifts. Small businesses that employ fewer than 250 people would be exempt from the bill.

Scheduling instability is an issue that largely affects women workers and their families, Elaine Zundl, Research Director at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, told Supermajority News. Along with co-author Debra Lancaster, Zundl is the co-author of a new report on the topic. Scheduling instability can take many forms, Zundl said, including employers asking employees to keep their schedules open for more hours than they could possibly work and being “penalized when you try to restrict your availability with your supervisor.”

Women juggling part-time work with attending school or family responsibilities also face barriers. “If you say, ‘Hey, I can’t work Fridays because I have class’ or ‘I can’t work on Thursdays because I take care of my mom’ there is a lot of pushback,” Zundl added, noting that the report found that some workers would drop classes or delay returning to college because their work schedules did not allow them time off for class, and they needed the money they earned from working.

“I teach at Rutgers, and sometimes I look around the room and think ‘Is their assignment late because they were working more hours than they wanted to this week? Were they scheduled hours they wouldn’t normally work?” Zundl said.

Workers who are parents face similar conundrums. “Turnover is a huge problem in these industries, and one of the reasons that it is happening is that people are confronted by these impossible choices,” Zundl said. “They have to decide whether to go to work or to go pick up their child from up school.”

Zundl stressed that a new approach to scheduling would positively impact both employers and their workers. “If you treat the workers with a little bit more respect and you give them more notice, they will stick around longer,” she said. “you can keep more experienced workers on your payroll, and it leads to a better experience for the customer.”