When I've been out reporting on workers' protests for a higher minimum wage, fast food and retail workers repeatedly have told me three things:
n Their hourly pay rate isn't enough to pay basic living expenses.
n They're not getting enough hours on the job.
n They can't get a second job because they're required to be available for their first job whenever called.
All three issues are embroiled in layers of political and economic discussions. Outside of unionized environments, compensation and shift assignments for most jobs are whatever the employer believes is right, based on costs, competition, skill levels, available talent pool and other free market forces.
In early October, though, hundreds of thousands of low-wage retail workers got results they wanted on their third point. Partly spurred by aggressive action in New York state, several major national retail companies have eliminated on-call scheduling -- a requirement that workers be available to work whenever called.
The practice is a logical business practice that allows companies to staff up or staff down when business demands and not have workers standing around with nothing to do or not have the company understaffed at peak times.
From the workers' point of view, though, it's a hardship that makes it difficult for them to manage transportation, child care and education (as in taking classes to work toward a degree), much less take a second job.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman looked into scheduling practices of 13 large retailers, notifying them that on-call scheduling likely violated a New York wage law. In response to the probe and to groundswell action, several major brands have announced an end to on-call scheduling in their New York stores and, for some, nationally.
The Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Victoria's Secret, Urban Outfitters, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Starbucks are among major brands that have said they don't use or won't use on-call scheduling at some point in the near future.
According to recent reports, Schneiderman's office also has sought scheduling information from J. Crew, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Crocs, Ann and J.C. Penney.
Separately, the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has started a pilot program that gives workers more control over choosing their own scheduling slots, perhaps injecting more consistency into their work lives.
Sophisticated scheduling programs -- along with employers' desire to attract and retain employees -- can help bring the needs of workers and hirers closer together.
Diane Stafford, Kansas City Star workplace reporter, can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and on Twitter @kcstarstafford.