I Was A Victim Of Abusive Scheduling. Then I Had To Implement It Myself

My fight for stable hours and predictable schedules for service and retail workers.

Reality Bites? Yup, it sure does

Since I was 16 years old, I’ve worked: at movie theaters, in restaurants, and in retail stores. I financed many years of education, including graduate school, with a day job at The Gap. When I moved to Washington, DC, in 2010 for a full-time nonprofit job, I thought I’d left retail behind. But after a round of unexpected layoffs, I found myself working at The Gap again.

I was thankful that the job meant I could remain in the District instead of moving back to Michigan. But working as both a sales associate and as a manager exposed me to both sides of the abusive and unpredictable scheduling practices that so many companies use — and that force many employees to live day-to-day and hand-to-mouth.

Working as both a sales associate and as a manager exposed me to both sides of abusive, unpredictable scheduling practices.

As an associate, I got my schedule only days in advance. I was also often scheduled to be “on-call,” which meant I had to plan to be available but wasn’t sure whether I’d work those hours or not. If I wasn’t needed, I didn’t earn anything.

No matter how hard you work, when your hours are constantly changing and unpredictable, you’re always living on the brink. I used to look at my schedule and do the math to find out how little money I might possibly take home that week. And still, sometimes my real-life paycheck would be even lower than my worst-case-scenario calculations. That made it tough to plan for the future or feel like I was moving forward, and nearly impossible to budget or get a second job.

At least I was childless. At least I was healthy.

After a few months at The Gap, I became a manager. With the promotion and badly-needed full-time work came the responsibility to keep costs low. The other managers and I were instructed to use a bare bones crew, cut on-call shifts, and even turn regular shifts into on-calls. I worked hard to help this large, profitable corporation squeeze out more dollars, but I hated cutting my staff’s hours. Just a few months earlier, I’d been in their shoes, fearing that phone call and worrying about the rent.

I’m not proud of how I treated our employees, but The Gap demanded it.

While I was working full-time as a manager — overseeing multiple staff, as well as budgets, inventory, and logistics — friends, and indeed many people in the U.S., believed that my employees and I were not working “real jobs.” This misconception is incredibly insulting, but it is also dangerous, because it implies that people who work in retail or service don’t require real rights and protections.

Retail employees do need those rights and protections, or else they get exploited. One young mom was known for her ability to do everything. We managers understood that she always made herself available and do a great job, no matter how skimpy our staffing, so managers would cut her one day and call her in the next. I can’t imagine the havoc that wreaked on her life and family. Meanwhile, newer associates, with their entry-level training and knowledge, got worse and fewer shifts. How were they supposed to gain skills and get ahead?

When I was leaving Gap, Inc., in the spring of 2014, the company announced it would pay all its employees at least $10 an hour. That made for great publicity at a time that many Americans were debating what our country’s minimum wage ought to be, and as many states, counties, and cities, like DC, were raising their minimum wages.

Yes, raising wages for people at the bottom of the pay scale is the right thing to do. But higher wages are only one piece of the puzzle for people and families seeking a pathway to a better life. It doesn’t matter what your hourly wages are if you aren’t given enough hours to work, if your shift is cancelled at the last minute, or if you’re required to sit around unpaid but on call. It’s only fair for hardworking people to be able to plan their lives around a known schedule and earn a predictable amount of money.

It doesn’t matter what your hourly wages are if you aren’t given enough hours to work, if your shift is cancelled at the last minute, or if you’re required to sit around unpaid but on call.

The Gap recently took a step in the right direction when they announced an end to the painful gamble of on-call scheduling, and I hope other companies follow suit. I also hope more take the initiative to produce schedules in advance, and schedule staff for the hours they need to live on — that includes creating more full-time jobs for current employees, rather than hiring part-timers to keep corporations’ options open and costs down.

Now that I’m no longer working in retail, I really notice how understaffed many shops are. I’m not greeted at stores; the few people on the sales floor are hustling in many directions. I overhear employees talking about staffing and sales numbers and recognize their anxiety.

Large, profitable corporations should treat their employees decently. But we can’t wait for corporations to do the right thing on their own. We all need to demand that companies enable employees to earn a decent living. Legislation currently before the DC Council would ensure that chain stores and restaurants in my city use responsible scheduling practices that create stable and decent jobs for everyone working here. I’m eager to see that change, and for other jurisdictions to follow our lead!

I eventually found another full-time, salaried, nonprofit office job, and I’m glad to have it. My many years in retail and service work were real, skill-building preparation for my current job. I want hourly jobs to be decent jobs that anyone would be proud to have, from which people can earn a decent living. We all need to demand that companies not only pay a livable minimum wage, but schedule employees fairly so that they can work hard, earn enough, and build strong futures for themselves and their families.

Carla Hashley is the Operations & Events Manager at Jews United for Justice, a progressive grassroots community in Washington, DC. She has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University and a Bachelor’s degree in Public History from Western Michigan University.

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