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By Amy Tannenbaum and Liz Watson, National Women's Law Center
Cross-posted from NWLC's blog

At Tuesday’s HELP Committee hearing on women’s economic security Senator Warren called attention to the extreme challenges  workers in low-wage jobs with unstable and unpredictable schedules often face – including the challenge of getting their schedules at the last minute, having hours that vary dramatically from week to week or month to month, having little ability to alter the timing of their work hours without facing a penalty, and working too few hours to make ends meet.

Senator Warren said: “[the lack of predictable work schedules and hours] makes juggling a family, a home and work for many people almost impossible” (you can watch her here starting at 1:46). Amanda Legros, a worker from New York, put the problem in stark relief when she described her own struggle [PDF] to try to get enough hours at work to make ends meet while parenting a young child.

The projected growth in jobs that are historically low-wage and female-dominated, and women’s disproportionate share of these jobs, makes addressing the scheduling challenges in these jobs a necessary step for promoting women’s equality and opportunity in the workforce.

Senator Warren referred to research from our coalition partner the Retail Action Project, which found that roughly one-fifth of low-wage retail workers in New York City received their work schedules only three days in advance, and to the rise of “just in time” scheduling practices that require workers to be constantly on-call and to have their hours cut at a moment’s notice if business is slow. These unfair scheduling practices have enormous implications for families who are trying to make their way out of poverty. To name just a few, these schedules diminish workers’ ability to maintain stable child care, pursue workforce training and further education or hold down a second job which they, like Ms. Legros, may need if they can’t get enough hours at their first job. As NWLC Vice President for Education and Employment Fatima Goss Graves highlighted at the hearing, addressing the problem of unpredictable and unstable schedules is crucial to helping workers achieve economic security for themselves and their families.

Not only do hardworking individuals and families deserve better, but evidence shows that implementing fair scheduling practices for low-wage workers is good for business too: greater flexibility and stability lead to greater employee productivity and satisfaction, lower employee turnover, and better employee well-being, all of which help the bottom line.

Senator Warren concluded this way: “We need to push the conversation, we can’t always be fighting on the defense. It’s time to talk about where we could make changes that would help families. When we think particularly of the direction we’re headed in the workforce with the rise of female-dominated low-wage jobs, the importance of being able to focus on scheduling issues could really be powerful.”

We couldn’t agree more. Addressing these difficult and often abusive work scheduling practices is absolutely critical to allowing hardworking women and their families to succeed both on and off the job.

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