There’s a new showdown taking place at City Hall as City Councilor Michelle Wu pushes for tough restrictions on how hundreds of city contractors schedule their employees for work.
Wu wants to require the employers to provide workers with written notice of a change in work hours at least two weeks before it takes effect. She sees her measure as an important way for Boston to use its considerable purchasing muscle to address income inequality.
But the business community is none too pleased. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce opposes the measure, marking the first time in chamber CEO Jim Rooney’s tenure that the group has weighed in against a proposed city ordinance. Since Rooney came on board in 2015, the chamber has tacked to the left on social issues. But this is one progressive cause that Rooney and his staff can’t sink fast enough.
Wu’s proposed ordinance would apply to about 400 businesses with city contracts, ranging in size from small janitorial operations to local nonprofits to accounting giants such as KPMG and Ernst & Young. The daily, per-worker penalties for contractors that don’t comply could rack up quickly — from $75 paid to employees when a new schedule is not posted in time, to possible $300 fines assessed on employers for violating any aspect of the ordinance.
Rooney says this measure could have a far-reaching impact, especially for multistate companies that might stop bidding on city jobs to avoid rewriting their HR handbooks. The proposed ordinance, he argues, takes city government into a place it doesn’t belong by reducing the flexibility that private sector managers need to run their operations. Other groups that dislike the proposal include the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
Wu remains undeterred. She notes that her ordinance includes provisions for voluntary last-minute changes. City officials, she says, should be doing what they can to create stability and economic mobility for Boston’s residents. This is one way, she says, to fulfill that mission.
What happens next? Wu says she has support on the Council, but she wants to give Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration more time to analyze the impact before calling for a vote. That means refiling the ordinance in January, with the goal of voting it through by March.
It’s not clear how Walsh will respond: All a spokeswoman would say is that the mayor is looking forward to reviewing any proposal with a goal of benefiting workers, employers, and the local economy.
Wu says she may make minor tweaks, including language clarifying which employers would be affected, but no substantive changes.
Boston isn’t alone in trying to tackle the thorny issue. Other cities have adopted “fair workweek” or “predictive scheduling” laws, as they’re often called. Several focus on retail and fast-food workers, who activists say can be particularly prone to unpredictable shifts. San Francisco and Seattle have adopted local scheduling laws, for example. One is currently being considered in Philadelphia. And New York City has one that’s facing a new legal challenge.
In Oregon, scheduling rules apply across the state for retail, hospitality, and food-service workers. Business advocates worry that Boston’s ordinance might be a step toward a broader approach here, one that could be similar to or even more far-reaching than Oregon’s. The retailers, for example, say this could set a precedent that builds momentum for a statewide employee scheduling law on Beacon Hill.
To the business groups, it seems like a slippery slope. But Wu sees it differently: as a potential springboard for a fairer economy.