With minimum wage and paid sick leave laws on the books, more than a dozen labor and community groups have begun a campaign for their next worker-friendly law: more predictable work schedules.

Organizers of the Fair Workweek New Jersey campaign, as it is called, say legislation is needed in particular for workers with low-wage hourly jobs in the warehouse, retail, hospitality and fast-food industries.

Adil Ahmed, director of worker organizing and policy for Make the Road New Jersey, said workers bear the brunt of ‘just in time’ scheduling that makes it hard to plan things like child care and doctor visits, given that schedules can change with a few hours’ notice.

“What we need are solutions that address this chaos, sort of decrease the chaos in people’s lives so that they know when they’re working and they can plan out the other parts of their lives,” Ahmed said.

“The goal here really is for people to be able to live on one job, and so to actually reap the benefits of the laws that were passed and to have a stable lifestyle,” he said.

Beyond logistical issues, changing work schedules also create volatile incomes if a person works 30 hours one week but then 20 hours the next, Ahmed said. It can also make it difficult for a person to obtain a second job, should that be necessary, if they have to be "on call" to possibly report to work.

“So that 20 and 30 is a huge difference knowing what you’re going to be able to afford that month or that week. And that’s leading to chaos in being able to afford child care and to pay rent,” he said.

Legislation pending in Trenton would require workers to be given an extra hour’s pay for each shift changed with less than 24 hours’ notice, unless it’s because a co-worker calls out. It would also require them to be paid at least one hour for each day they’re instructed to call less than 24 hours before a shift begins to see if they must work.

“Work schedule uncertainty is an unnecessary and degrading feature of many workplaces today,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who first proposed the bill in 2015.

The proposed bill “would be totally unworkable, inflexible and expensive” for small business owners, said Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

“This legislation will not help employees as its intended, but instead is likely to result in them losing hours or jobs,” Ehlbeck said. “When small businesses are struggling to cover shifts and are forced to pay out premiums for unanticipated changes, it will difficult and expensive. They may lay off workers due to the increased costs, or possibly turn to automation and eliminate jobs.

“In large part, small business owners do try to arrange mutually beneficial schedules, but impossible to predict the unpredictable,” she said. “The business could lose customers if it is unable to have needed staff to cope with those situations.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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