The Good Fight: Philadelphia Passes Fair Workweek Legislation

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More than 130,000 workers from low-paying service industries got some relief thanks to legislation that gives them some much-needed control of their schedules.

The Fair Workweek legislation passed by the Philadelphia City Council will require businesses with more than 250 employees and 20 locations to provide advance notice of schedules, compensation for last-minute changes and protection from retaliation. Workers in the fast food industry and in large retail chains will be the primary beneficiaries when Fair Workweek takes effect in January of 2020.

City Councilmember Helen Gym, a former member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), wrote and introduced the legislation after soliciting extensive feedback from worker and other social organizations around the city.  The legislation earned the co-sponsorship of six other councilmembers.

“One of the most important issues holding people back from stability was the amount of hours they work and the fact that some of the largest sector industries in our city and on which our economy relies were operating in ways that I believed to be exploitative and abusive,” said Gym, a first term councilmember. “We were seeing that laws were moving around the country to address those kinds of abuses, often with and in partnership with businesses. It felt like in Philadelphia – which is the poorest large city in the country – that can and must also happen here.”

The Center for Popular Democracy, which works to implement Fair Workweek practices throughout the country, has conducted extensive research within the service and retail industry. A 2017 research brief, “Certain Uncertainty: Low Wages and Unpredictable Hours Keep Philadelphia Hourly Workers in Poverty” states that service workers (including food service, janitors, retail and hospitality) make up 20 percent of the city’s workforce and that nearly half of Philadelphia’s households earn less than $35,000 per year.

Gym has met with service industry workers whose lives are constantly disrupted by the uncertainty of their work schedules.

“We heard from restaurant workers who come in and have their shifts canceled and turn around and are sent back home,” Gym said. “We heard from immigrant workers who make the first-class meals for airline companies that are held for hours and hours whenever there’s a delay, without any kind of ability to control their own schedule. And I heard directly from college students and working parents and people who take care of themselves and other family members who are so stressed out about their schedules that it has a significant impact on their health and well-being.”


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