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Slowik: Agencies say scheduling flexibility benefits temporary workers

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I’ve been sympathetic to people who work part-time in the many warehouses throughout the Southland.

I support safety in the workplace and fair compensation for workers. I recently wrote about a forum I attended where people discussed conditions for temporary workers at warehouses in Will County.

The discussion also addressed the impact of widespread warehouse development on the environment and our transportation system. I maintain that local elected officials should do more to address those concerns.

I’ve since learned more about the industry that helps connect employers with an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 temporary workers in Illinois. I learned how state lawmakers have addressed employment issues that affect warehouse workers.

“In 2005, Illinois adopted the most protective state legislation yet enacted concerning the employment rights of day laborers,” the Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy wrote in 2006.

I respect how coalitions of groups representing various interests have fought for legislation to protect workers. But I think recently proposed state legislation that would regulate the scheduling of workers seems unreasonable.

House Bill 5046 would require employers to provide workers 72 hours written notice of their work schedules. Workers would be entitled to an extra four hours’ pay if they were notified less than 72 hours before a shift that their hours were reduced or canceled.

Representatives of the Staffing Services Association of Illinois, the American Staffing Association and the Illinois Search and Staffing Association wrote a letter outlining their concerns about the proposed Fair Scheduling Act.

“There is no feasible way for staffing firms to comply with the requirements of the legislation as temporary assignments, such as those involving substitute schoolteachers, arise on very short notice,” the letter said.

I appreciated how representatives of the staffing services industry asked lawmakers to exempt temp agencies from the requirements. They pointed out that Oregon — the only other state to enact a predictive scheduling law — exempted temporary workers.

The bill ended up being sent to the House Rules Committee, which did not act on the proposal before the legislative session ended May 31.

Chicago aldermen introduced a similar measure last year, though it would be even more restrictive than the state bill. Chicago’s proposed Fair Workweek Ordinance would require employers to post work schedules 14 days in advance.

I agree with critics who say the scheduling-requirement proposals would hurt businesses that create opportunities for temporary workers.

“We’re a resource that provides for people who require flexibility in their lives,” said Janet Sloan, president of Seville Staffing and legislative committee vice president for the Illinois Search and Staffing Association.

I spoke by phone Wednesday with Sloan, who told me temporary workers include parents of young children, family caregivers and students.

“Not everyone wants or needs a full-time, permanent job,” Sloan told me.

Parents and caregivers who look after people who are elderly or have disabilities often seek temporary work through staffing agencies because of their unpredictable schedules, she said.

“We don’t hold that against them,” Sloan said. “We say, ‘Call us when you’re available.’”

Many temporary workers hold full-time jobs during the week and pick up part-time hours on evenings and weekends to earn extra income, she said.

Sloan testified May 9 in Springfield before a joint session of the Senate and House Labor Committees.

“What happens if someone is a caregiver and we have to change the schedule so they can take care of their sick parent or child?” Sloan testified, the Staffing Services Association of Illinois said on its website.

“What about a student that needs to pay for books and tuition and decides on a Friday to pick up shifts for the weekend? All of those occurrences would create scheduling changes and would be threatened by this proposal,” she testified.

People convicted of felonies and seeking second chances after serving time in prison also benefit from temporary work, she said. Employment opportunities are typically more limited for ex-offenders, even those who committed nonviolent crimes.

“We take people with backgrounds,” Sloan told me. “We review cases individually. If they’re not a danger to themselves or society, we put them to work.”

I contacted Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, D-47th, and Scott Waguespack, D-32nd, on Wednesday. They are among the lead sponsors of the proposed Fair Workweek ordinance, which is cosponsored by 17 of the city’s 50 aldermen. I asked about the status of the ordinance they introduced last summer, but neither immediately responded.

The city clerk’s website indicates the ordinance was referred to the city council’s committee on committees, rules and ethics.

Dan Shomon, a spokesman and lobbyist for the Staffing Services Association of Illinois, told me the proposed ordinance would be bad for businesses and the workers they employ. “We believe it will hurt the people it’s intended to help” by regulating the scheduling flexibility that is essential to the nature of the temporary worker industry, Shomon said.

Chicago’s ordinance proposes steep fines of $500 to $1,000 per violation.

“The penalties are pretty substantial,” Sloan said.

I continue to support worker rights and remain concerned about how warehouse development in Will County impacts roads and the environment.

But I think a city ordinance or state law that would mandate scheduling notification requirements would be too onerous and restrictive.

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Twitter @tedslowik

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