A new Berkeley ordinance will require fast-food restaurants, hotels, retail chains and several other businesses to give their employees more predictable work schedules.
Called the Fair Work Week Ordinance, the legislation mandates that certain large employers give lower-wage workers their shift schedules at least two weeks in advance, and pay a bonus if they need to call employees in or cancel shifts on short notice.
The City Council approved the legislation during a special meeting Monday night over objections from some business groups. Unions and other advocates for workers backed the ordinance, which goes into effect a year from now, saying the new rules will make it easier for employees to balance commitments like second or third jobs, schoolwork and child care.
“Low-wage, part-time workers have a lot of insecurity in their work life,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison, who authored the ordinance. “They often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, so when schedules change without much notice it can really upend their entire life.”
Several other cities have passed similar ordinances, including Emeryville, San Francisco and Chicago. Supporters described Berkeley’s ordinance as the most expansive of its kind since it applies to a broader list of industries than comparable rules in other cities.
The Berkeley ordinance will affect certain employees in the healthcare, retail, hotel, manufacturing, warehouse, building services and restaurant industries. It also applies to the city of Berkeley, where hundreds of workers — such as seasonal staff in the city’s parks and recreation department — would fall under its protections.
The legislation exempts smaller businesses, and instead targets bigger employers and chains.
Restaurants with 10 or more employees in Berkeley and at least 100 workers globally would be subject to the rules — meaning they’d apply to a McDonald’s, but not a mom-and-pop restaurant or a small chain with a handful of locations. For other sectors, the total worker threshold drops to 56 global employees.
The rules apply to any worker making less than double Berkeley’s minimum wage, or under about $34 per hour.
If managers need to change an employee’s work schedule with less than two week’s notice, they’ll have to pay the worker a one-hour “predictability pay” bonus on top of their regular wages. The ordinance gives workers the right to turn down a request to come in for a shift on short notice.
And if a worker’s shift is canceled less than 24 hours before it was set to begin, their employer will owe them up to four hours’ worth of wages.
“Workers lose money, time and gas when they change the schedule at the last minute,” an employee at the downtown Berkeley McDonald’s told the City Council through a translator at a Nov. 3 meeting about the ordinance.
The legislation also takes aim at the scheduling practice known as “clopenings,” when an employee has to work a late shift one night followed by a morning shift the next day. It allows employees to refuse work assignments that start within 11 hours of their last shift’s end, and requires that companies pay them time and a half for the second shift if they agree to it.
Leaders of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Berkeley Association spoke against the ordinance at Monday’s meeting, saying it would make the city more hostile to businesses at a time when many are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Matt Sutton, a senior vice president with the California Restaurant Association, told the council, “Restaurants need some time to get back on their feet and to move forward.”
Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she had similar concerns about the ordinance, citing figures that showed a rise in vacant commercial spaces and a drop in tax revenue from food and beverage sales.
“This city is in trouble and I think we need to keep that in mind as we move forward with some of these ideas,” Wengraf said. “We want more businesses to come to Berkeley [and] we want the businesses that we have that are successful to be able to grow.”
The ordinance was approved with a 7-0 vote; Wengraf was absent from the vote at the end of Monday’s meeting, which Councilmember Lori Droste did not attend.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín argued Berkeley has been working to support its business community through the pandemic. Employers, he said, similarly warned the council that “the sky [was] going to fall” when the city raised its minimum wage several years ago.
“This ordinance is about fairness for workers,” Arreguín said. “Just like we have done a great deal to support our small businesses, we have to support our essential workers.”
The council also passed $670,000 worth of budget referrals — funding requests that councilmembers will decide whether or not to fulfill during the city budget process — to pay for costs relating to the ordinance. That includes $50,000 for training and technical assistance to help businesses meet the legislation’s scheduling requirements, $150,000 for a new staff position to manage schedules for city workers and $240,000 as a higher-end estimate of how much predictability pay the city could have to provide workers each year.
Another funding request seeks $230,000 for a city staff position to enforce the scheduling ordinance, which allows the city to fine businesses for violations or retaliating against workers who invoke their rights.
Arreguín called that position “long overdue” since Berkeley has also passed other legislation meant to improve working conditions — such as ordinances to prevent wage theft and raise labor standards on construction projects — that require city enforcement to be effective.