UM Kids' Medicaid

January 18, 2017

Unpaid Bills, Unmet Needs: Why Workers Need Fair Work Schedules

By Harold Stolper

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers work in stores and restaurants across the five boroughs. For young people and for those newly arrived to our city, including immigrants, these jobs can offer a vital entry point in the local economy.

There are, however, serious, but fixable, downsides to such employment that make it difficult for workers to get ahead, or even get by. Not only do these jobs typically pay low wages; many workers also don’t know from week to week—or even from day to day—when and for how many hours they’re expected to be on the job. The resulting unpredictability in incomes and schedules can make it difficult to arrange child care, create stable household budgets, and pay bills on time.

Each year, the Community Service Society of New York (CSS) conducts a survey of New Yorkers called the” Unheard Third,” designed to elevate the concerns of low-income New Yorkers, many of them holding one or more low-wage jobs. “Unpredictable,” a recently published policy brief based on the results of the 2016 Unheard Third survey, documents the effects of volatile and uncertain work schedules on the day-to-day lives of low-income workers. It shows that, to be effective, the growing movement to mandate “living wages” for these workers also needs to include a right to fair work schedules.

The survey found a sizable increase in routine economic hardships among low-income workers who face unpredictable work schedules, compared to other low-wage workers with more predictable schedules.


CSS believes New York can do better than that. Specifically, we think our city needs to join other localities – including San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. – in enacting work scheduling laws that, for example:

  • Mandate reasonable advance notice of scheduling changes; 
  • Require employers to compensate workers for last-minute changes to their schedules;
  • Protect workers from “clopenings” that require them to be on hand to close a store only to return for the next shift to open it again; and
  • Encourage employers to offer a path to full-time employment by offering additional hours to existing employees before hiring extra workers.

Proposed measures currently before the City Council, which have the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, would provide some welcome work schedule protection in the fast food industry. While that would be a good start, more needs to be done, especially for low-paid workers outside the fast food industry.
Harold Stolper is the senior labor economist at the Community Service Society of New York. A full copy of the policy brief “Unpredictable” that this blog post is drawn from is available here.

The Community Service Society of New York (CSS) is an informed, independent, and unwavering voice for positive action on behalf of more than three million low-income New Yorkers. CSS draws on a 170-year history of excellence in addressing the root causes of economic disparity through research, advocacy, litigation, and innovative program models that strengthen and benefit all New Yorkers.

Photo credit: Kevin Case