Mayor, Aldermen Negotiate Fair Workweek Ordinance

Give your employees advanced notice of their work schedules – or face a steep penalty. That’s the thrust of a new ordinance aimed at larger Chicago companies. 

The Fair Workweek Ordinance essentially aims to give employees, especially those who work in industries in which they’re called in for shifts, some stability and predictability in their schedules.

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The ordinance was to have been voted on Monday at a committee meeting, but it’s undergoing some last-minute revisions. Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, chairwoman of the Workforce Development Committee, moved the vote to Tuesday.

A lot is still up in the air, but recent versions of the ordinance have called for the new rules to apply to companies with 100 or more employees, and nonprofits or restaurants with 250 employees or more. It would apply to employees who make $25 an hour or less.

Starting in 2020, those companies would have to set their employee shift schedules 10 days in advance. In 2022, the advance notice would increase to 14 days. If the employer were to change or cancel a shift within that time period, it would have to pay up – as much as half the normal rate that that employee would have made. Union groups say the ordinance is needed because shift workers tend to be operating without a net.

“You’re sort of on call all the time, they decide to take you off the schedule, you don’t get any compensation,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare. “So it makes people’s lives difficult to plan. You can’t get another job because you’re already scheduled for another. You can’t depend on a certain amount of hours just to simply survive.”

There are ways to avoid these penalties, per the ordinance. An employer and employee can have a written agreement to forego the 10- or 14-day advance scheduling notice if they so choose. Unions can also collectively bargain not to have the scheduling provision in their contract. Garza says these things should soften the blow for employers.

“They’re going to have the ability to call in workers when they need to without a penalty,” Garza said. “Employers and employees can agree on schedule changes. Those are all things that have been negotiated. So, we’re in a good place.”

But one business group – the Illinois Retail Merchants Association – says the ordinance goes too far. Namely, it prohibits these companies from hiring new employees until extra hours have been offered to current employees. And it blurs the lines between part-time and full-time employees.

“This ordinance, which would essentially allow a part-time employee to make themselves full-time, gives employers a lot of pause because they’ve totally reorganized a person’s business,” Triche said. “That person has the financial responsibility for it now, and they can’t control that.”

The ordinance would not uniformly apply across all industries, and certain organizations are warning that it could cause major problems. Chicago’s safety net hospitals that serve primarily low-income populations say this is going to crush them, costing as much as $30 million a year in penalties. They say there is no way around calling in doctors and nurses on short notice.

“You have to have one nurse for every mom that goes into labor,” said Diahann Sinclair, vice president of St. Bernard Hospital, a safety net facility in Englewood. “So what if I have four moms that show up in my ER that are in labor? I have to have four nurses in to be able to take care of those moms. That gives me a couple hours of notice. So it’s not just 10 days. It is literally every day, from hour to hour.”

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, is a business owner. He runs a restaurant and says he’s resigned that this will eventually have the votes to pass after some tweaking.

“We’re close, but everyone’s going to have to give,” Tunney said. “It’s going to be punitive on businesses. Hospitals, nonprofits, hotels. Everyone has a different definition of why they should be included and at what levels.”

We mentioned it was supposed to have been debated and voted on Monday, but Garza cancelled the vote because the mayor’s office is still negotiating the ordinance.

“There’s always been a discussion around what industries will apply, what the threshold is for number of employees,” Lightfoot said. “I don’t want to get ahead of where the language is, but those are the things we are continuing to fine tune.”

The ordinance could face a full City Council vote Wednesday.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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