Seattle Needs to Join the Fight Against Clopening Shifts

Your typical clopening worker, between shifts.

Your typical clopening worker, between shifts.

When I was younger, my life was packed with clopening shifts. In my first job at Sears in the Maine Mall, I’d work on the receiving docks until 9 at night, drive the half hour home, eat, get a few hours’ sleep, and then wake up at 5 am so I could eat, shower, and get back to work for a stocking shift by 6 am. A few years later, I’d close a bookstore down at 11 at night and be back to open it at 9 in the morning. When I managed a cafe, some days I’d choose to sleep under my desk in the back office for six hours at night, rather than lose two hours of sleep to commuting home and back.

Back when I worked those shifts, we called them “turnarounds.” Now, according to Steven Greenhouse at the New York Times, they’re called “clopening” shifts, and they’ve become so prevalent that lawmakers are finally starting to do something about them.

Earlier this year, Boston.com’s Justine Hofherr wrote a story about a bill presented by Massachusetts state Rep. Sean Garballey which “would mandate that employers give workers at least 11 hours between shifts and three weeks’ advance notice for schedules.” Hofherr explains that employers “would have to pay time and a half whenever employees are called in before 11 hours have passed between shifts.” And then this:

If employers make unexpected schedule changes under the new bill, they would have to give employees a revised written work schedule within 24 hours of making the change and receive written consent from the employee. Workers unable to consent to the rapid schedule change would not be penalized.

If managers change work schedules inside the required 21-day window, employees are entitled to “predictability pay” for the hours they were scheduled to work. Similar anti-clopening laws are also being proposed in Maryland and Minnesota.

Back in the day, I regarded my clopening shifts as badges of honor; I like to think of myself as a hard worker, and what could demonstrate my commitment to hard work more thoroughly than working practically around the clock? But I was young, and I had no commitments, and I was lucky enough to have one full-time job at a time.

This is not the case for today’s low-wage workers, more than a quarter of whom have children. Many low-wage workers have more than one job, putting them in a precarious position that requires them to juggle the constantly shifting schedules demanded by their multiple employers. Balancing multiple jobs and family commitments at the same time is hard enough with a reliable schedule.

Under pressure from outside sources, Starbucks agreed to self-police their clopening problem. That’s a great first step. But we need to do more. These are the sorts of protections that used to be supplied by unions, but those protections have eroded and now it’s up to the state—or, most likely in our case, the city—to defend them. This is not an anti-business law; it’s about ensuring that the American worker has the resources she needs to do the job at hand.

Anti-clopening laws will require employers to actually hire an appropriate number of workers to cover hours of operation. More importantly, they’ll allow workers a bare minimum of stability. In addition, tired workers are more accident-prone and more likely to get sick than well-rested ones, so business will also see financial benefits from a more humane work schedule.

With our $15 minimum wage and our ongoing civic conversation about rent control, Seattle is fast becoming known as a city that cares about everyone, not just its richest citizens. A clopening law would be a simple way to improve the lives of the poorest (and often hardest-working) Seattleites; all we need to make it a reality is leadership from one of our elected officials.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.