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Ali Davidson's picture

“Everyone should work in a restaurant, at least once in their lifetime.” Whether you have worked in a restaurant or not, chances are, you have heard this sage advice. When I hear this advice, I am undeniably proud to have had restaurant experience as part of my story. 

My first job was as a busser at The Oyster House, a small, mom-and-pop owned restaurant in my hometown of Olympia, WA. At just sixteen years old, I quickly learned the value of hard work along with everything it takes to work in a restaurant. I worked as a busser until I graduated from high school and even returned as a server during summers in college. You could say my strongest memories of The Oyster House are how my pastel yellow, button-up shirt and apron would reek of tartar sauce and fry grease at the end of every double-shift or that I was able to carry 10, 15 or sometimes 20-pound trays with a single hand. However, what I remember most about working in a restaurant is not the nostalgia of working a touristy, seafood joint during my late teens; it is how ineffective scheduling practices ran rampant without little thought on the consequences to workers, especially workers with families. 

Working as a busser and a server at this small business in Olympia, I remember receiving my schedules just days before my shifts would occur, making it challenging to plan accordingly. Far too often, I would receive these last minute schedules where I would be scheduling a closing shift, followed by an opening shift. These are what industry workers now refer to as “clopening” shifts. While working these shifts were great for my wallet, the lack of down time between shifts was detrimental to my overall mental health and wellbeing. Finally, my schedule was “on-demand” or heavily composed of on-call shifts. What this would translate to is servers sitting in the back of the break room, ready to work if the restaurant got busy. While I would sit in the break room for upwards of an hour waiting go on the floor, I would never clock on to receive pay for even my time sitting “on-call.” These practices were incredibly unjust and put me and my co-workers in tough financial positions.  

Though I could not name it at the time, these practices are what has spurred action for “secure scheduling.” Secure scheduling would require employers to 

  • Ensure work schedules are set at least two weeks in advance
  • Accommodate workers’ caregiving or school schedules when possible with employee-requested shift changes
  • Protect employees’ right to swap shifts amongst themselves
  • Increase access to full-time hours for qualified internal candidates
  • Requires employee compensation for on-call hours

If you currently work in a restaurant or in retail, you know that my story is not at all uncommon. What is uncommon about the story, however, is that when I worked in a restaurant, I was single, young, and had little responsibilities in the grand scheme of things. When I would work a clopening shift, my consequences were receiving little sleep or not being able to do my homework before school the next day. However, the consequences for moms and families’ economic security is far greater. 

Women are over-represented in the restaurant industry, hospitality industry, and much of the retail industry. Many of these women are also mothers. When you factor in children and families into the realities of unjust scheduling practices, the stakes become much higher. When employers use on-demand scheduling, it puts moms and caregivers into the impossible position of trying to make last-minute arrangements for childcare, transportation, eldercare and other responsibilities.

Unfortunately, secure scheduling did not advance in the 2019 legislative session. However, the important work of ensuring secure scheduling for all restaurant and retail workers is far from finished. Proponents of big business got away with killing these bills, but it is not exclusively a big business issue. My story and the stories of so many others in service work shows that. Basic protections and standards around work schedule should be a right for all, not just a few. Highroad employers across the state are already doing just this and its time that we held other employers accountable. 

If you support secure scheduling, here are three things you can do to keep it at the forefront for Washington legislators now and moving into the 2020 legislative session: 

  1. Call your legislator to let them know why you care about secure scheduling and ask them to work in their caucus to make it a priority next session.
  2. Post, tweet, and share about secure scheduling and share with your networks how it would influence you and others you know.
  3. Consider sharing your story with MomsRising who are advocating for the bill on the ground in Olympia. Our stories are powerful and they help change the direction and destiny of policy. Share yours here!

Though my career has taken me on a different path altogether, my days of serving at The Oyster House have given me lifelong compassion for industry workers. My care for all workers, especially women, mothers and families, stems from my career in social justice work. Secure scheduling legislation is common sense for workers, employers, and customers. When restaurant, hospitality, and retail workers have fair and predictable scheduling, our families, economy, and communities thrive. 


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