Aldermen praise fair workweek ordinance, call it a compromise
by KEVIN GROSS
Some Northwest Side aldermen praised the city’s new fair workweek ordinance that was approved unanimously by the Chicago City Council last month and called it a compromise between labor unions and industry organizations.
The ordinance requires predictable work schedules for lower-earning employees in larger businesses including buildings services, health care, hotels, manufacturing, restaurants, retail and warehouse services.
"This vote was by no means a rubber stamp thing," Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said. "This was everybody working to try to resolve this by listening, and this is one of the better times I’ve seen people just work and decide to hear everybody and try a compromise that works for everybody."
The ordinance, effective July 1, 2020, will require some employers to notify workers at least 10 days in advance of their schedules, or else compensate them an hour of pay at the regular wage for schedule changes after the required posting date, or payment of half the earnings of any shifts that are reduced or canceled within 24 hours of the shift. Starting in July 2022, notifications will be required at least 2 weeks in advance.
Employers can still change hours if the worker agrees in writing, while covered workers also maintain their right to trade shifts or request schedule changes for reasons such as vacations or sick time, and earn the right to decline extra unscheduled hours and a "right to rest" provision.
New employees must receive an estimate of the expected weekly work hours, expected on-call shifts, and the portion of days they could be scheduled to work during their first 90 days of employment.
The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection can issue a $300 to $500 fine against employers that violate the ordinance, or a $1,000 fine for retaliating against employees.
The protections don’t apply to employees paid more than $26 per hour or an annual salary of more than $50,000. Similarly, the law doesn’t apply to smaller employers and only includes businesses employing at least 100 people globally or non-profits with more than 250 employees.
"The new Fair Workweek Ordinance stands as a bold step in providing the reliability our working families both need and deserve," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.
Chicago’s ordinance is the first of its kind in the United States to require predictable scheduling for healthcare workers, which was a point of contention for healthcare employers, particularly "safety net" hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of uninsured or Medicaid patients.
"There were concerns with safety net hospitals, so they have an extra 6 months to get this straightened out," Sposato said. "They said many (patients) don’t pay too well, obviously. And the state I heard has been really bad with the (bills and Medicaid) backlog, I thought the state has gotten a little better with its bills but I guess not."
As another concession, certain exemptions for healthcare workers’ predictable scheduling can apply to instances of "unexpected demand" for workers such as declared natural disasters or unexpected bouts of city violence.
"Initially, the Illinois Hospital Association was very adamant that in other states and other municipalities they (hospitals) were already exempted. I explained to them that, ‘Well, you need to look at what potentially you have to live with, because there’s always a first’," said Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th), the mayor’s floor leader. "And in Chicago – being a union city with multiple ‘Local 1’s,’ which means that they’re the first local chapter in the country – this is an industry that is going to be put in a position where the fair workweek ordinance is going to impact them …. I think once those candid discussions took place, they (healthcare employers) realized they needed to have some ideas on what (concessions) they wanted. Labor obviously had their ideas of what they wanted, and so we began to see how we could meet in the middle."
Since former alderman John Arena (45th) introduced the ordinance last summer, additional changes to the law – including the $26 hourly threshold, or the exemption of restaurant industry employees working in restaurants with fewer than 30 locations and 250 employees globally or under franchise owners owning fewer than four restaurant locations — helped lead numerous opposition groups such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Health and Hospital Association to reverse their stances on the measure.
"I think the concerns were legitimate about this," Sposato said while describing his experiences working at a family-owned banquet hall when he was younger. "I can’t begin to think how many times I got phone calls the day of saying, ‘Hey can you come in today, we need you.’ Those things happen to smaller businesses. You do your best to find you’re either on the schedule or not on the schedule, but sometimes say you’ve got a funeral luncheon, its going to be 150 (customers) and now its only 100, or vice versa there’s going to be 100 people and it ends up being 150."
"I think what you saw was that a ‘win’ doesn’t have to be 20 to 0, a ‘win’ could be 8-7. So you begin to move the needle," Villegas said. "I think that’s why there’s language in the ordinance that talks about revisiting this, to see what’s working and not working."
Aldermen Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Samantha Nugent (39th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Jim Gardiner (45th) did not reply to requests for comment before press time.
Gardiner said in his newsletter that he "as an alderman with a strong labor background, I am proud to support ordinances that protect workers."