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Fair work schedule ballot petition in crosshairs of retail lobby

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Colin A. Young

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — A ballot initiative petition that supporters say would make scheduling more fair for low-wage workers has drawn the ire of a prominent retail industry lobbying group, which says the proposed law “has been described by many in the employer community as one of the worst pieces of legislation ever written.”

The petition, filed with the attorney general’s office earlier this month, calls for a law that would require fast food restaurants and retail stores to pay an employee one to four hours of extra pay whenever it changes that employee’s work schedule within 14 days of a scheduled work shift.

“This ballot initiative is about giving low wage workers and their families the rights they deserve by requiring employers to be fair with their scheduling,” said Larry Carpman, a partner at consulting firm Northwind Strategies, which filed the petition after discussing it with various progressive groups. “It would have employers give hourly workers proper notification of schedule changes.”

The law would also require the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to develop regulations to govern the scheduling of workers in fast food restaurants and retails shops that have at least 75 workers statewide and to set up a method for employers to notify workers of changes in their schedules.

But the Retailers Association of Massachusetts says the initiative petition would “follow an ever growing and increasingly troubling trend of government intrusion into the employer-employee relationship and general business operations.”

“There is a very troubling message coming out of left wing activist groups and certain politicians, and this message is very anti-employer,” RAM President Jon Hurst said in a statement. “They seem to be saying that employers — including small biz — are not to be trusted; while employees are always right and taken advantage of. The trust between employer and employee, and the flexibility both seek are dismissed by this measure.”

Hurst and RAM said the law would “most certainly have put countless small businesses out of business” had it been in place last winter, when businesses had to cancel workers’s shifts due to severe weather and government-imposed travel bans.

“Businesses unable [to] generate revenue at that time would have still been required to pay each employee penalty pay for cancelled shifts. Many businesses already struggling to survive due to the closures would have been lost,” RAM said in its statement. “The rigid nature of this proposal is simply unworkable.”

Because of new laws passed last year, employers in Massachusetts have been mandated to pay increased hourly minimum wage, which will continue to rise over the next two years, and offer paid sick leave to employees. RAM said the scheduling initiative would be “yet another similarly egregious and costly employer mandate.”

If the attorney general certifies the ballot initiative petition and the Legislature declines to take it up as a bill, its supporters will have to collect at least 90,000 signatures in order to qualify for the 2016 statewide ballot. But others are already working on similar legislation.

Rep. Sean Garballey, an Arlington Democrat, filed legislation (H 1708) earlier this year in the House that would require employers to give employees a work schedule at least 21 days in advance and would bar employers from making an employee work hours not on that initial schedule without first receiving written approval from the worker.

Garballey’s bill was referred to the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development in January and has not yet been subject to a public hearing.

On the federal level, Sen. Elizabeth Warren filed a bill (S 1772) that would require that at businesses with more than 14 employees, management would need to grant requested scheduled changes to accommodate a worker’s education or job training, a second-job, a health condition or to care for a child or elder unless there is a legitimate business reason to reject it.