Philadelphians Deserve a Fair Workweek, Too

This is a guest post by WLP legal intern Shannon, student at Drexel Kline School of Law, JD Candidate 2019.

Finishing up my third year of college, I was already $75,000 in debt and I knew it will only get worse.

My mom was in her second bout of chemo, so my parents were no longer financially stable enough to help with college costs. Due to this, I had three food service industry jobs, but was unable keep those jobs because the hours conflicted with school.

My bosses gave me ultimatums: it was either the job or school. I picked school, hoping a college degree would give me financial stability. Three years later, I am in law school and even more in debt. My mom is in her fourth bout of chemo. I run back and forth between restaurant work and school trying to make ends meet.

I receive my work schedule only five days before the next workweek. My work hours range from 20-30 a week, with zero consistency. I am only making $10 an hour. I live paycheck-to-paycheck trying to pay all of my bills, straining to find some time for myself. Unfortunately, this is my norm.

It is also the average lifestyle for many underemployed, low-income service sector workers in Philadelphia. Nearly 20 percent of Philadelphia’s local economy is made up of service sector type businesses. These industries have the highest incidence of unpredictable scheduling and involuntary part-time employment.

The Philadelphia Fair Work Week Campaign, running this week, draws attention to this important issue, showing how unpredictable scheduling harms the health and wellbeing of Philadelphia’s workers and their families. The Campaign’s goal is to pass local legislation that will create a family-sustaining workweek for the city’s service sector workers.

Philadelphia’s workers and their families need predictable workweeks that their families can count on. They need the opportunity to work enough hours to make ends meet, healthy workweeks that are sustainable and do not include scattered morning-to-night, open-to-close, shifts, and they need flexibility in order to take care of themselves and their families.

Many cities, such as New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco, and the state of Oregon, have passed laws to reform the unpredictable and unstable nature of the service sector.

Now it is time for Philadelphia.

On January 25, 2018, Councilmembers Gym, Quiñones Sánchez, Squilla, Henon, Taubenberger, Green, and Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution that was subsequently adopted, to authorize the Committee on Children and Youth to conduct hearings on the impact of unpredictable and inadequate work hours on the wellbeing of families, examining the effect of unstable workweeks on children and caregivers.

These hearings are one step in the right direction for well-deserved and needed legislation to help service sector Philadelphians secure job stability. Based on a study by Professors Kristen Harknett and Daniel Schneider, a large majority of workers have expressed that they want to work more hours and have predictable work schedules. The study also found that most workers’ hourly wages fell well below the estimated living wage, meaning that these workers’ wages were not enough to meet basic needs.

Many workers are unable to supplement their income with a second job when the job that fails to provide them with a living wage also imposes unpredictable working hours. Most workers do not have control over when they receive their work schedule, the days they are scheduled to work, or times they are scheduled to work.

A majority of Philadelphians, like me, only receive their schedule within or less than one week prior to their next workweek. This unpredictability is unsustainable for anyone trying to raise a family or go to school, and hinders any possibility of a life/work balance.

It is time to act and pass legislation that will create more predictable schedules to improve the lives, health, and well-being of Philadelphians and their families.

The Fair Workweek Campaign is led by One Pennsylvania. To learn more and view upcoming events, check out One Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Fair Workweek Campaign launch here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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