The Seattle Times Editorial Board Gets Everything Wrong on Secure Scheduling

The Seattle Times: protecting our beloved sloughs from the menace of popular public transit since 1891.

The Seattle Times: protecting our beloved sloughs from the menace of popular public transit since 1891.

On Monday at 2 pm, the City Council will finally vote on secure scheduling. A majority of the council has already voted the bill out of committee, so the legislation is expected to become law. This is great news for workers in Seattle, who will finally enjoy predictable scheduling, allowing them to balance their work and personal lives. It will enable them to plan doctor’s appointments, family time, school schedules, and all the other everyday activities that so many Seattle office workers take for granted.

Secure scheduling makes sense from a business perspective, too: this law will allow these workers to reinvest themselves in their communities as consumers who can plan their finances more than five days in advance. We’ve already agreed in Seattle that when restaurant workers have more money, that’s good for restaurants. Secure scheduling is a continuation of that idea; it ensures that restaurant workers have the time (and the sense of financial stability) to spend their money in restaurants. It’s just good sense.

So, naturally, the Seattle Times Editorial Board fucking hates it. They published an editorial this morning titled “Seattle’s scheduling rule is counter to our innovative business culture,” and it’s so packed with bullshit that I have no recourse but to fisk the thing—go through line by line to unspool all the lies and misdirections stuffed inside. Ready? Here we go, from the very beginning:

Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council are moving at breakneck speed, for them, on new legislation this month.

This push for legislation started back in February, so it’s not exactly the 2 Fast 2 Furious frenetic road race that the Times is disingenuously depicting here. There have been plenty of committee meetings where citizens on both sides of the issue have spoken out, there have been community events, there have been many opportunities for everyone to comment.

 Not to finish police reform or fix infrastructure overwhelmed by growth and traffic.

Such a lazy attempt at misdirection. You want city leaders to be able to handle a variety of issues at the same time. That’s literally why we have a government: we don’t want leaders to just run around trying to put out whatever fire is supposedly burning the hottest at any given moment, we want them to make the city livable on a variety of levels.

 No, the legislation flying through City Hall this month will instead dictate scheduling policies at a narrow slice of companies operating within city limits.

Note the “flying”—you could conceive and give birth to a child in the amount of time it’s taken this legislation to come to a full vote—and the “dictate,” here, both of which are highly misleading. There’s a difference between regulations and dictatorial demands. Does government “dictate” that five-year-olds can’t work in factories?

And this is the first instance of a weird dichotomy in the piece: first the Board complains about the law, and then they complain that it only affects a small number—or, in this case, a “narrow slice”—of employers. Which is it? Do you hate the law, or do you want it to apply to small businesses?

In this case, secure scheduling only affects food service or retail businesses that employ over 500 workers worldwide, or sit-down restaurants with over 40 locations worldwide. It’s basically the same structure as our minimum wage adoption schedule: big chains with CEOs who make tens of millions of dollars a year are held to a higher standard. And it makes sense to take the same tack with secure scheduling: these chain stores already have the sophisticated scheduling technology to easily handle a few additional scheduling requests.

 Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council are emulating San Francisco, which passed the nation’s first “secure scheduling” legislation in 2014. They presented a Seattle version on Aug. 9, hustled it through committees and expect to finalize the rules on Monday.

“Hustled.” You’d think this legislation broke land speed records. There’s nothing unusual about the process secure scheduling has taken; would the Board prefer a city where no law ever passed? Is the Seattle Times a huge fan of the dreaded Seattle Process?

 The rules require companies to provide at least 14 days notice of work schedules, offer existing employees additional hours when they become available and pay extra when schedules change.

One of the few true sentence in the whole piece. They don’t mention, of course, that the “extra” pay is a single hours’ wages, and they also don’t mention the part of the law that affects “clopening” shifts, which require employees to work late at night and then turn around and come back early in the morning. Probably they don’t include that bit because everybody thinks clopening is a terrible thing to do to an employee. Clopening is so unpopular that Starbucks itself announced that they were abolishing it chainwide it a few years ago. They still do it, though, which is a great example of why we can’t trust these companies to self-police.

 Before rushing this through, Seattle officials should consider the long-term effect of these rules and their other efforts to micromanage business operations at the behest of national labor organizations.

“Rushing.” The Board really broke out the thesaurus for this one. It should be mentioned that the Board also complained about Seattle rushing into the $15 minimum wage, and into expanding transit. Basically, any legislation they dislike moves too fast for them.

The terrific thing about the political process is that it does take in all sides, and business interests have had plenty of input in the secure scheduling law. Just this week, the City Council adopted several amendments which address problems that large corporations had with the day-to-day realities of the secure scheduling law, making it easier for them to comply. The city isn’t dictating employee schedules, it’s not micromanaging anyone’s operations. It’s setting standards for businesses, the same way they establish health and food safety standards and, uh, a minimum wage.

 Seattle’s current success is due in large part because the city’s been an incubator of disruptive retail companies that are now household names.

And when those disruptive retail companies were very small, the secure scheduling laws would not apply to them. What’s your point?

 As companies such as Starbucks, Costco and Nordstrom extended their brands far and wide, they also projected Seattle values — including service and benefits that raised the bar in their markets.

The “benefits” in that sentence is important because it accidentally highlights something the Times is gently avoiding here: Those businesses succeed, in part, because they demonstrate the Seattle value of being great places to work. Costco is famous for its great employee retention numbers. I talked with Starbucks employees who fought for secure scheduling, and they all told me that they love their jobs and their coworkers—they just needed more security in their scheduling so they could balance their jobs and their lives.  Secure scheduling instantiates those Seattle values into law, because we know that the economy requires everyone’s participation to succeed. Without food service employees who make decent money and have the time to spend it, the economy suffers.

 Seattle must fiercely protect its reputation as a place of business innovation and agility. That provides far more jobs and opportunity than being a sandbox for special interests’ regulatory experimentation.

Seattle, in case the Board missed reading it in their own paper, is not hurting for jobs. The $15 minimum wage has not killed the economy as the Board repeatedly threatened; in fact, it’s strengthened it.

It’s a question of balance — providing the flexibility and level playing field businesses require while protecting workers from unreasonable practices.

That’s almost exactly what supporters of shared security have been saying since the beginning. More than halfway through the piece, the Board still hasn’t made the case that shared security hurts business—they’ve just thrown around some scary insinuations.

 Some companies have used new scheduling technology in ways that cause such erratic schedules, making it untenable for those at the first tier of the retail workforce. Starbucks, notably, was shamed by press coverage into improving its scheduling policies in 2014.

And again, Starbucks failed to improve its scheduling policies. And so here we are.

But Seattle officials’ response is questionable. The proposed rules single out particular companies, applying burdensome regulations to some but not others. They won’t benefit the majority of retail workers in the city, who mostly work at small- to mid-size companies.

Again, secure scheduling follows roughly the same standards established by the $15 minimum wage rollout, which is working just fine. Large retailers like Starbucks and Target already utilize scheduling software that enables them to plan their schedules months in advance; this will not be an undue burden on them. The legislation has language that requires the city to reinvestigate secure scheduling two years from now, with studies to examine its effects. Presumably at that point, the employer size regulations will be reinvestigated. This is how good policy works.

Only affected are national retailers, coffee chains and restaurants with at least 500 employees and 40 or more establishments globally.

True.

Retailers in general are struggling to compete with Amazon.com, yet it’s mostly exempted. The rule only affects Amazon workers in physical stores, which so far are limited to roughly 15 employed at University Village.

This is such an obvious concern-troll misdirection; do you honestly suppose that the Seattle Times would be in favor of a law demanding that Amazon’s programmers enjoy the same protections that the current legislation stipulates? Why bring Amazon into it? While it’s true that Amazon is a retailer, most of the people it employs in Seattle are not directly involved in the service industry. And besides, if Amazon’s current expansion plans follow through, they will likely be required to follow the current secure scheduling guidelines soon enough.

Unionized retailers are excluded from the layers of new regulation and potential penalties, even if their contracts provide fewer worker protections than stipulated.

Union workers are better-paid than their non-union counterparts. They enjoy better benefits than non-union workers. Union workers are much more likely to be full participants in the economy, which is the goal of this legislation.

The rules are so complex and difficult for companies to follow without incurring penalties. The path of least resistance becomes unionization.

This is ludicrous. The law is not complex and difficult to follow. Believe me; speaking as someone who has had to sit through a number of anti-union training videos for at various shitty retail jobs, no huge retail corporation would prefer unionization to entering a few additional restrictions into its scheduling software.

This legislation is not onerous. It is not complex. It’s easy to imagine the Board saying the same thing about food safety laws, if the City Council were passing a hand-washing ordinance today: “Does the city honestly expect employers to stand in the bathroom with employees and supervise them as they wash their hands? This confusing job-killing legislation will cause restaurants across the city to shut down.”

 That raises a question about the legislation’s intent and primary beneficiaries: Is it more about improving conditions for workers or encouraging unionization of large companies?

Wow. So now it’s all part of a conspiracy to unionize Starbucks? Again, this isn’t going to happen. If there’s one thing big retail chains hate more than paying their employees, it’s unionization. This is the same kind of scare tactic the Board employed in 2013, when it warned that raising the minimum wage in SeaTac could kill the hotel industry near the airport. (And besides, given that union employees make more money, enjoy more benefits, and are generally treated more humanely than the average work-for-hire employee, I wouldn’t be that opposed to this scary fictional outcome that the Board is waving around.)

Seattle voters should ask their elected officials who they are truly representing here and what they’re doing to nurture the city’s business climate.

Respectfully, I’d argue that Seattle Times readers should ask the paper’s editorial board who they’re truly representing with this article and what they would define as a healthy business climate for Seattle. Because the Board has been on the wrong side of just about every good legislation we’ve seen in the last few years, from raising the minimum wage to supporting public transit. Increasingly, the Seattle that the Editorial Board promotes looks nothing like the Seattle that I see when I walk down the street every day. Why do they waste valuable space in the paper promoting the trickle-down interests of the one percent when it’s clear that Seattle is choosing a different path?

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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.