Why Fair Job Scheduling for Low-Wage Workers Is a Racial Justice Issue

June 9, 2016
By Liz Ben-Ishai

Former CHF board member Liz Ben-Ishai writes about scheduling as a racial justice issue. This article is edited and was originally posted by In These Times

Over the past few years, two movements have exploded into the public’s consciousness. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder and police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and many other people of color, Black Lives Matter has emerged as a powerful set of voices calling for racial justice, including an end to racially motivated violence.

Ron Harris/ Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

Ron Harris/ Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

At the same time, a growing movement of low-wage workers demanding higher wages and paid sick time has led some corporations to improve their policies for workers, and to dozens of localities and states adopting minimum wage increases and paid sick days laws.

The next frontier in the fight for fair workplaces is job scheduling. Protests by retail and food workers, high-profile New York Times articles, and other subsequent media coverage of workers experiencing erratic, unpredictable schedules has led to public outcry, the introduction of federal legislation to improve work schedules, and more than a dozen state and local proposed laws.

There is considerable overlap between these issues and the activists that are at the center of both movements. As Ron Harris, an organizer at the Twin Cities-based group Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), explains, people “don’t live single-issue lives. … The people getting shot are low-wage folks. … They are over-policed and under-resourced.”

I spoke with Harris to learn how NOC is leading the fight for fair scheduling in Minneapolis by taking an approach grounded in a commitment to racial justice. The campaign demonstrates the possibilities that emerge when advocates connect the dots between job quality issues and racial justice in their strategy and messaging.

Tell me about your organization, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC).

NOC is a non-profit that focuses on work at the intersection of race, public policy and the economy. Our members are primarily low-wage Black folks living in north Minneapolis. Our mission is to shift the balance of power between folks who have and folks who don’t have, and in our opinion, the folks who don’t have are low-income black people in Minneapolis.

We derive a lot of our ideas about what issues we will work on from the bottom up.

How has NOC been involved with organizing and advocacy related to fair scheduling in the Twin Cities?

We got involved with fair scheduling because members of our base were coming in saying they were working jobs where they didn’t know their schedule until the day before or even the day of. They were forced to close businesses and come right back and open up the next morning. We call this “clopening.”

So we started to work with national partners, Center for Popular Democracy included, to come up with a fair scheduling policy that mirrors work in other cities and states.

Why is scheduling a racial justice issue?

If you think about the folks who are the most likely to have an unfair schedule and the least likely to be able do something about, at that intersection it tends to be people of color, particularly women of color.

If they don’t have access to a fair schedule, they are likely working a low-wage job, and if they are in a low-wage job, they likely have inadequate access to transportation… and you can see how there is a domino effect.

Why is it important to frame public discussions of fair scheduling in terms of racial justice?

The thousand of stories we collected about employers hiring new people instead of giving out more hours to their current employees or getting schedules the day before people were supposed to work—all of those stories were coming from low-income communities of color, so frankly, that was the only way we could frame it.

The movement for racial justice has been gaining strength and momentum around the country in the wake of police killings. Within that movement, do you think there is enough attention to job quality and fair workplace issues?

Nationally, no. Locally, definitely. With NOC and Black Lives Matter, yes, we’re talking about police brutality, but also an overall culture of injustice that exists. In Minneapolis, in particular, some of the chants are we don’t want to get shot by police—but we also want a $15 minimum wage and all these other things.

The intersection of race and the economy has been really strong here. It’s a compounding effect where if you pay attention to the folks who are getting brutalized by the police, these aren’t middle class and rich folks. These are low-income black people. They are getting stopped because they are walking down the street when they are “not supposed to be,” technically. The people getting shot by police are low-wage folks—they are over-policed and under-resourced.

What could the fair scheduling movement be doing to further highlight the racial justice aspects of scheduling issues?

Really to ground the work in story telling. Make sure you have a strong base of individuals who are actually going through [unfair scheduling] who can speak from experience. No one can deny someone’s story. Stories help to justify everything you do.

Also, get the data. We gathered data that shows that the people who are most likely to work the jobs that have unfair schedules, they are black and brown, and most likely women. The data alone reflects that this is a racial justice issue.

Build a broad-based coalition, including people who understand how to do racial analysis and member based organizations, so the members can really speak for themselves.

How can scheduling advocates support the work of racial justice advocates?

If you think about it, if people are advocating for police reform, criminal justice reform, the people they are standing up for are people who are working these crappy jobs. So, fair scheduling advocates just need to stand up and say, our people are the same exact people. They don’t lead single-issue lives, they lead lives that are compounding multiple issues.

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