Seattle Passes Law Protecting Workers From Erratic Schedules

The second major U.S. city to regulate scheduling practices. 

Starbucks barista Oliver Savage was one of a number of workers and city leaders that pushed for the city's new “secure scheduling” rules for retail and food-service businesses with hourly employees. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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This week, Seattle became the second major U.S. city to guarantee greater predictability for lower-income workers by regulating how retail and food-service employers can schedule their employees, reports the Seattle Times.

The City Council unanimously passed a “secure scheduling ordinance” on Monday night, following in the steps of San Francisco, which passed a scheduling law covering chain stores and eateries in 2014. Seattle’s law is also aimed at chains and larger ventures: It will apply to large retailers and quick-serve eateries with 500 or more workers, and to full-service restaurants with both 500 or more employees and 40 or more locations. That means the law will apply to Starbucks, one of Seattle’s most recognizable companies.

Upon hiring, those employers will now be required to give new employees good faith estimates of the hours they can expect to work. Employers will also need to post work schedules two weeks in advance, provide at least 10 hours off between opening and closing shifts, offer available hours to part-time workers before hiring new workers, and cough up additional “predictability pay” when making changes to a posted schedule.

The law also requires that employers keep records on everything from employee schedule change requests to good faith estimates for three years. Employers found to be in violation will pay penalties, starting with $500 per worker for the first violation and increasing from there. Enforcement will fall to the city’s Office of Labor Standards.

Before the vote, Council Member M. Lorena González said in a press conference that “the promise of a $15 minimum wage falls flat when you’re unable to work more than 10 hours a week … and when you’re unable to know how many hours you’re going to work next week.”

Labor-backed organizations, unions and worker advocacy groups have pushed for the law, while business groups including the Washington Retail Association opposed it. “The business community is frustrated that there’s some nefarious desire to assume that business practices are incongruent with best practices for their employees,” said Meadow Johnson, senior vice president of government relations at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, before the vote.

Afterwards, she said told the Seattle Times, “The city’s survey showed that many hourly employees in Seattle are already satisfied with how their employers handle scheduling, so we will continue to work closely with our members to ensure that the rules do not negatively impact the flexibility their employees value.”

In a statement Monday night, Mayor Ed Murray framed the secure scheduling ordinance in the context of the city’s $15 minimum wage. “Seattle once again is taking concrete steps to address income inequality,” he said. “Secure scheduling helps working families, young people, students and workers of color by providing stability and clarity to their work schedule.”

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Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at

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Tags: income inequalityseattle

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