My Fair Workweek Legislation Could Help 130,000 People in Philadelphia Service and Retail Jobs

Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the nation, and that doesn’t happen by accident—it happens because of policies that reinforce poverty rather than relieve it. One of those policies is unpredictable schedules, which are prevalent in our country’s largest fast food, retail and hospitality corporations.  


A study of Philadelphia’s retail and fast food employees revealed that 66 percent do not have a regular daytime work schedule and as a result nearly half of these service sector workers cannot even predict their weekly incomes. Councilmember Helen Gym told us this has a profound impact on city services and on our population overall, especially those who are most struggling to get by.


“We have companies that do ‘on call’ scheduling where workers are called in on demand day to day or week to week. We have employers that cancel shifts whenever business is slow and send employees home without pay even though they promised them a shift,” said Gym. “It’s time for abusive practices like that to change.”


My Fair Workweek legislation offers stable scheduling


Gym’s My Fair Workweek legislation provides stable scheduling with a two-week advance notice of schedule, provides a small amount of compensation for last minute shift changes, and also tackles the issue of underemployment by letting workers gain access to more hours of work when they become available.


“This bill can provide immediate relief for thousands of Philadelphians who are struggling to balance the demands of multiple jobs or child care or school and raise the basic standards of employment in our city,” said Gym. “I’m proud that this bill is supported with eight sponsors on City Council, more than 40 partner organizations across the city, and has the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer.”


As proposed, the Fair Workweek bill applies to the largest fast food, retail and hospitality chain companies with at least 250 employees and 20 or more locations around the country. The bill will create common-sense labor standards in this sector and would benefit the 130,000 people in Philadelphia service and retail jobs who don’t know when they’ll work or how much money they’ll take home week to week.


Over the last year, Gym has met with countless working parents and young people. Her office has worked with dozens of businesses and trade organizations, labor and childcare advocates, and non-profits to develop and gain feedback on this bill. The bill will go through the standard legislative process this fall.


“The support I see for the Fair Workweek bill is overwhelming – from groups representing women and babies to advocates for education, youth leadership and workforce development services to labor rights advocates and public interest groups to religious leaders and high road businesses who recognize that you can’t profit from keeping your own employees poor and unstable,” said Gym. “We have a lot of energy and momentum to see some action on this bill soon.”


“Poverty in Philadelphia is a real and immediate crisis for so many of our neighbors and especially the children of this city. It cannot simply be solved through charitable efforts or by pushing this onto the public sector,” concluded Gym. “Employers need to get directly involved in the effort to end poverty by changing the abusive practices that promote it. Stable schedules are a common-sense step toward a healthier and more economically strong Philadelphia for us all.”


One Pennsylvania’s members struggle with unpredictable schedules


One Pennsylvania is supporting the introduction of fair workweek legislation. As a grassroots group that organizes in working class communities in the city, One Pennsylvania has seen their members struggle with the impact of unpredictable schedules. “Several of our staff have personally experienced the insecurity that comes from not knowing how much you will earn from one week to the next, because you don’t get your schedule with enough warning—which leads to not knowing if you’ll be able to pay rent or buy food,” said Erin Kramer, Executive Director for One Pennsylvania.


One Pennsylvania member Cynthia Son is an example. “My second job out of high school was at AMC Theaters, a minimum wage job at a mall in Bensalem. At the time I was working two jobs while studying at beauty school. I found myself with very little time to take care of myself due to their scheduling and the horrendous work conditions they force their workers to endure,” said Son. “My managers expected me to clean multiple theaters at once without assistance, scheduling me for short shifts in the middle of the day knowing I had a long commute. I was expected to be on call, with the threat of termination if I wasn’t available, even IF I wasn’t coming in that day.”


Day after day, Son scrambled to make accommodations for a paycheck that she couldn’t survive off of and she is not alone. “I am one of the many retail workers whose basic needs are being ignored for the sake of profits. We are human, we have lives and obligations outside of our jobs and we have the right to have livable wages and decent working conditions for the amount of work they ask of us,” said Son.


“One Pennsylvania members have told us time and again about missing medical appointments, parent-teacher conferences, classes at school, and important family events because they got called in to work with no notice,” said Kramer. “It’s only fair that 130,000 retail, food service and hospitality workers in Philly get two weeks’ notice of their schedules.”


Kramer said One Pennsylvania has dozens of members that will be affected by the bill directly, but all their members will benefit from a work environment that respects people’s time.


“The big businesses that will be covered by this bill have lobbyists in City Hall every day, talking about how it’s too hard for them to provide notice to workers—and ordinary workers don’t have lobbyists working for them. We need everyday Philadelphians to call Council and tell them to support a fair workweek,” said Kramer. “Target, Starbucks, Walmart and Marriott all operate in cities or states like New York, San Francisco and Oregon that have fair workweek policies already—it’s not going to cost them more to do it here, for Philadelphians.”


Anyone who wants to get involved in the campaign, or who wants to show support, should visit and sign the petition to City Council. And of course, Kramer said please register to vote, if you’re not already registered.