As more workers find their lives upended and their paychecks reduced by ever-changing, on-call schedules, government officials are trying to put limits on the harshest of those scheduling practices.
The actions reflect a growing national movement — fueled by women's and labor groups — to curb practices that affect millions of families, like assigning just one or two days of work a week or requiring employees to work unpredictable hours that wreak havoc with everyday routines.
The recent, rapid spread of on-call employment to retail and other sectors has prompted proposals that would require companies to pay employees extra for on-call work and to give two weeks' notice of a work schedule.
Vermont and San Francisco adopted laws giving workers the right to request flexible or predictable schedules to make it easier to take care of kids or aging parents. Scott Stringer, New York City's comptroller, is pressing the City Council to take up such legislation. Last month, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to give the "right to request" to 2 million federal workers.
The new laws and proposals generally require an employer to discuss a new employee's situation and to consider scheduling requests, but they don't force companies to accommodate individual schedules.
In a referendum last year, voters in SeaTac, Wash., approved a measure that bars employers from hiring additional part-time workers if any of their existing part-timers want more hours. Some San Francisco lawmakers are seeking to enact a similar regulation.
Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, plans to introduce legislation this summer that would require companies to pay their employees for an extra hour if they were summoned to work with less than 24 hours' notice. He is also proposing a guarantee of four hours' pay on days when employees are sent home after just a few hours.
A national campaign — the Fair Workweek Initiative — is pushing for legislation to restrict scheduling practices in places including Milwaukee, New York and Santa Clara, Calif.
"Too many workers are working either too many or too few hours in an economy that expects us to be available 24/7," said Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek Initiative and an organizer at the Center for Popular Democracy. "It's gotten to the point where workers, especially women workers, are saying, 'We need a voice in how much and when we work.' "