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Philadelphia Service Workers Could Be Next to Get a Fair Workweek Law

The city’s bill is the most expansive effort yet to tame on-call scheduling, and the unpredictability it adds to workers’ lives.
A fast-food worker is detained by police during a protest to push fast-food chains to pay their employees at least $15 an hour, outside a McDonald's restaurant Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in Philadelphia.
A fast-food worker is detained by police during a protest to push fast-food chains to pay their employees at least $15 an hour, outside a McDonald's restaurant Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, in Philadelphia.Matt Rourke/AP

For the nearly 130,000 service workers employed in Philadelphia, finding a job is only half the battle to stability. Once hired, many must contend with constantly shifting schedules and variable hours each week. Some keep their schedules open just in case a shift pops up; others avoid taking second jobs or college classes because of their unpredictable call times. For parents especially, “on-call scheduling” makes organizing childcare and other family responsibilities an ongoing nightmare.

This isn’t just a Philadelphia story—on-call scheduling is legal in most U.S. cities, where it wreaks similar havoc on the lives of those in the service industry. But according to a recent survey of nearly 700 Philadelphia service workers conducted by U.C. Berkeley, the problem is particularly rampant in that city: 66 percent report irregular schedules, and 77 percent ache for a change.