The Chicago City Council could take up a vote at this week’s council meeting.

By Kim Bellware

Students who work while they’re attending classes can benefit from more predictable scheduling, advocates of the Fair Workweek Ordinance say. (Photo: Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)

Students who work while they’re attending classes can benefit from more predictable scheduling, advocates of the Fair Workweek Ordinance say. (Photo: Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)

Chicago is poised to have one of the most expansive laws in the country when it comes to how businesses treat employees regarding work scheduling. Proponents of the proposed legislation, known as the “Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance,” say the law will make it easier for workers plan their lives and their budgets by, among other provisions, requiring employers to:

  • Give at least two weeks notice of upcoming work schedules including where and how many hours.

  • Pay a special rate to employees if the employer adds hours or changes the schedule within the window of notification

  • Protect workers from retaliation if they decline additional hours beyond what they normally work.

"[The legislation] makes it possible for people to work full time, know their schedule so they can pursue things outside of work, like continuing education, or managing things like elder care and childcare,” said Susan Hurley of the worker advocacy group Chicago Jobs with Justice, which supports the ordinance. "These are things working people need to do, and you can only do that if you have control over your work scheduling and your life."

Other cities, like New York, Seattle and San Francisco have passed similar legislation, but limited its reach to mostly lower-wage hourly jobs in industries like retail, fast food and hospitality. Chicago’s ordinance encompasses roughly 10 industries, including healthcare, food service, retail, manufacturing and warehousing and hospitality. It would apply to all hourly wage workers and salaried employees in that industry making approximately $50,000. There are some exceptions, like construction workers and workers who have to respond in emergency situations, like gas leaks and power outages.

Why It Matters

Though the legislation has been proposed in the past, Jake Lewis of the Chicago Federation of Labor told City Bureau that after about two dozen negotiation meetings, “we believe strongly” that the proposal will come up in committee and go before the full City Council on Wednesday, July 24. 

Labor advocates and researchers for years have noted that  workers who have little or no control over their work schedules — particularly those who are paid hourly and work minimum-wage jobs — don’t know how much income they can expect or when they’ll be called in to work, and they often have worse outcomes related to health and family stability. 

Who’s Opposed?

Jack Lavin, the president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, leads a coalition of business groups who favor a less expansive version. He warned the legislation could hurt business by limiting their flexibility to schedule according to demand. He added, "I don’t know why [our law needs] to be more expansive than the rest of the country.” 

Business advocates are still angling for the ordinance to allow a “voluntary standby list,” which Lavin said would give workers the option to take on additional, unscheduled work if they want it, and give businesses the flexibility they need. 

Lewis, with the Chicago Federation of Labor, disagrees and said the volunteer standby list would incentivize businesses to understaff knowing they have a pool of workers ready on standby -- who are not getting predictability in their pay or scheduling. 

"It’s not a compromise, it’s something that would gut the ordinance,” Lewis said. He noted the ordinance covers many industries, but only the employers he said can afford to submit to such regulation: Eligible restaurants, for example, must have at least 30 locations and more than 250 employees globally to qualify. "This will not include mom and pop coffee shops or retailers. This is focused more on large employers — who are doing quite well in the modern economy.” 

What You Can Do Next

The ordinance, which proponents have worked on for almost two years, is on the agenda for the Committee On Workforce Development’s July 22 meeting (today at 1 p.m.). Here’s a list of the 18 aldermen on the Workforce Development committee.

UPDATE: The vote was postponed to Tuesday, July 23.

If you missed the meeting, you can contact your alderman to express support or concerns on the proposal before it’s considered by the full City Council. 

Or, you can visit Fair Workweek Chicago’s page and fill out a webform to easily contact your alderman to express your support. If you oppose it,  visit a similar form with the Chamber of Commerce-backed Work Your Way Coalition. 

The next full City Council Meeting you can attend: 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

10 a.m.

121 N LaSalle St.

What’s Next

With more than 30 aldermen co-sponsoring the legislation, the legislation would easily have enough support to pass if taken up at Wednesday’s meeting.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who in the past shared her own mother’s experience of scheduling struggles while working in the healthcare industry, is expected to sign it if passed.

Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said, “We appreciate the members of the City Council and its workforce committee for working with us to bring this critical piece of legislation to the forefront, and we expect to pass these reforms that will lift up Chicago’s hard-working families later this month.”

If signed, the law would take effect April 1, 2020. 

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