Inventing Rights for Retail Workers Is a Bad Idea

Retail workers can be mistreated, but so can employers. Inventing rules often does more harm than good.

ronald mcdonald sad

I completely understand that working a retail job can be frustrating. Employers can treat you badly. I have children working retail and I doubt I have many illusions of how things can go wrong.

But acknowledging problems does not automatically mean that one knows how to fix them. Thus we find in

San Francisco is now the country’s first jurisdiction to limit how chain stores can alter their employees’ schedules.

Other states and cities are considering similar statutory restraints. Work scheduling rules are therefore poised to follow localized minimum wage increases and paid leave mandates as the newest instance of state and local government stepping in to fill the void left by the decades-long decline of private-sector labor unions.

Meet your new union reps: the statehouse and City Hall.

San Francisco’s new law, which its Board of Supervisors passed Tuesday by unanimous vote, will require any “formula retailer” (retail chain) with 20 or more locations worldwide that employs 20 or more people within the city to provide two weeks’ advance notice for any change in a worker’s schedule. An employer that alters working hours without two weeks’ notice — or fails to notify workers two weeks ahead of time that their schedules won’t change — will be required to provide additional “predictability pay.“ Property service contractors that provide janitorial or security services for these retailers will also need to abide by the new rule.

“We know that while the economy is doing well for some, there are too many workers and families struggling in low-wage jobs with unpredictable shifts,” said Supervisor David Chiu, who in September introduced the predictable scheduling measure as part of a “Retail Workers Bill of Rights.” In addition to limiting schedule changes, the bill requires employers to pay part-time employees the same starting hourly wage as full-time employees in the same position. Employers must also give part-time employees the same access to time off enjoyed by full-time workers, and equal eligibility for promotion.

So who protects the retail stores from the consumers?

Are the consumers going to inform supervisors two weeks ahead of time that they plan to visit their restaurant or store that day?

No. But the only way this makes any sense is if employers have the same kind of guarantees from their potential customers that they are required to give to their employees. No one considers this because it is obviously impossible.

[See also, “Retail Stores: Sales Fall Due To Obamacare Insurance Costs & Uncertainty.”]

The rules about part time workers are also insane—as well as even more unfair. A person looking for a part time job typically wants a more flexible schedule. He would rather have that flexibility than the higher rate of pay. Why should the government demand that a retailer pay a part time employee more than is necessary? And why should someone who doesn’t want to work full time get the same things as someone who does want to work full time?

This stupid interference is going to drive retailers out of San Francisco. We will see a wave of small businesses replace them who will not be bound by the law—leaving employees in the same position as before.