Immaculate deception: Fair workweek ordinance will punish Chicago's working parents

  • Oliver McPherson-Smith

    Oliver McPherson-Smith

By Oliver McPherson-Smith
Guest columnist
Posted10/25/2019 1:00 AM

There were cheers and celebration when the Chicago City Council voted in favor of some of the strictest and most wide-ranging predictive scheduling laws in the country earlier this year. But for the city's working parents, the celebration is set to end before it even begins.

New research by the American Consumer Institute shows that Chicago's brand of predictive scheduling regulations will drive up costs for businesses and consumers, while punishing working parents with even less flexibility. Rather than helping the city's workers, these regulations will herald an even tougher work-life balance for families in the Chicago metropolitan area.


The Fair Workweek Ordinance seeks to offer certainty for workers in a variety of industries by restricting and penalizing employers who change shifts with less than 10 days' notice. Although other efforts to introduce predictive scheduling have targeted the fast food and hospitality industries, the Chicago ordinance will also restrict employers in the manufacturing, building services, and warehouse industries.

While these new regulations might look good on paper, the one-size-fits-all rules only work against the interests of workers. Predictive scheduling alters the relationship between workers and their employers to benefit a few, while shifting costs onto many. Far from the Dickensian scenario that the proponents of predictive scheduling would have you believe, a study by researchers at the University of Chicago found that 86% of managers said that employee preferences were important in scheduling.

Yet, these new regulations will take away the ability to alter shifts from both workers and their managers. Research highlights how predictive scheduling is likely to deter employers from accommodating requests for time off. When managers might be hit with additional costs, penalties, and fees just to find employees to cover time off, there is a huge disincentive to accommodate requests in the first place. The rules offer certainty for employees without other commitments, but will make balancing family, community engagements, and social life more difficult for the majority.

The city's Fair Workweek Ordinance will also make shifts tougher for workers. Most employees don't call in sick more than 10 days ahead of schedule, but employers won't be able to fill their place without incurring a penalty. Employers are more likely to just make do with the staff that are already scheduled -- meaning that colleagues will have to shoulder the burden with no additional remuneration. For working parents, the prospect of doing a tougher shift for the same amount of pay is a raw deal.

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The costs of predictive scheduling, however, are not just limited to businesses and workers. Faced with higher labor costs and the endless documentation needed to prove they are complying with the new rules, businesses will no doubt pass on these costs to consumers. Given the widespread impact of these backward regulations, if predictive scheduling were implemented across the country, it would result in a loss of at least $44 billion worth of economic output and eliminate a half a million jobs.

Proponents of the rules say that they will give working parents the certainty they need to organize child care. But these regulations trade the possibility of flexible working hours for a guarantee of fewer shifts, more stress at work, higher prices, and slimmer earnings.

While city bureaucrats might like to believe that they can regulate away the economics of profit and loss, it will be the working parents of Chicago who will have to deal with the mess they created.

Oliver McPherson-Smith writes for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org.

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