calendar-noun_542289The catalyst for HourVoice was a 2015 Harper’s magazine article, “The Spy Who Fired Me“, by Esther Kaplan. It was an eye-opener.

The spying part referred to the increasing use of monitoring technology and its growing ability to track workers. Your UPS driver is tracked to the minute; a clerical worker, to the keystroke. Creepy, but pretty much unsurprising.

The other, more discouraging part of the story illustrated how scheduling software was making life pretty miserable for hourly workers. Before, with paper schedules, managers tended to repeat schedules week-to-week, giving employees some stability. Now, with scheduling technology, schedules can change, and are changed, with the weather. Forecasts factor into the algorithm, and workers are told to report – or not – just hours before their shift is supposed to begin.

With this new variability, combined with companies limiting full-time work (Walmart schedules its store workers at no more than 32 hours a week), workers lead chaotic and precarious lives. They can’t commit to a second job, because their primary job’s schedule fluctuates so much. Going to school is almost as difficult. Plus, the technology makes it even easier for supervisors to threaten to cut workers’ hours to get the right behavior from them.

To address this, some cities are making employers provide stable schedules with advanced notice. Following San Francisco’s 2014 measure, Seattle just passed a “Secure Scheduling” law that applies to large retailers and food/drink businesses that employ 500+ workers (looking at you, Starbucks) and in the case of full-service restaurants, 40+ locations. It goes into effect next July.

Employers will have to provide two weeks schedule notice, 10 hours of rest between ending a shift and beginning a new one (addressing the notorious Starbucks “clopen” practice). They’ll also have to provide new hires with a “good-faith” estimate of how many hours they’ll get, and offer additional hours to part-time employees instead of simply hiring more part-time workers. There’s also (mis-named) “predictability pay,” which is paid to workers when employers change their schedules within the 2-week window.

All the above is, in a sense, a detailed explanation for why the HourVoice Worker App asks users to report how many hours a week they get and how far in advance they learn their schedule. But even if you don’t need HourVoice, you’ll want to understand tech’s impact on hourly workers.

Coming soon, “To Protect Its Reputation, Kronos Should Fire Starbucks.”