‘Clopening,’ other erratic work schedules take toll on service, retail workers, report says

Former retailer Toys ‘R’ Us was one of the examples cited at a recent worker forum in Seattle focused on what workers face with unstructured scheduling.
Former retailer Toys ‘R’ Us was one of the examples cited at a recent worker forum in Seattle focused on what workers face with unstructured scheduling. Bloomberg file, 2018

A Working Washington forum held in Seattle on Wednesday to discuss the toll of unpredictable or on-call work schedules offered plenty of hectic examples.

Retail and service workers told of mental, physical and family struggles beyond just being able to plan personal schedules.

Michelle Perez, a former Toys “R” Us employee who worked both part and full time, spoke about scheduling upheavals and their effect.

“Once I switched to full-time, a lot of it was ‘clopening’ shifts, so I was closing and opening the next morning. I’d get off at 11 and have to come back at 6,” Perez said. “I’d take the bus, so I’d have to leave my house around 4-4:15.

“There were days I didn’t see my children for almost 24 hours.”

Working Washington, which advocates for workers’ rights, plans to ask the state Legislature during the upcoming session to enact statewide a law similar to an ordinance adopted in Seattle.

Seattle’s ordinance, which went into effect in 2017, covers retail and food service workers with at least 500 employees worldwide. Among other things, it provides for schedules created two weeks in advance and requires compensation for workers if their hours are changed or if they are asked to work back-to-back shifts.

The forum was timed ahead of holiday hour scheduling crunch time, as many retailers ramp up with round-the-clock shifts before Christmas.

Working Washington also used the forum to present a report from researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco, who surveyed nearly 4,000 workers from Washington state not covered by Seattle’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance.

The team has done similar research elsewhere, such as Philadephia and Connecticut.

Surveyed workers were asked about schedules, household economic security, health and well being.

The results showed more than half of those working for large food or retail chains had schedules that varied or rotated. The average worker told the researchers work schedules could fluctuate by 11 hours from one week to the next.

Further, 38 percent of workers reported their income changed week to week; 22 percent said that they had difficulty paying bills as a result.

At the forum, Lee Ervin, who works at an area PetSmart, talked about how shifting hours affect his income and reductions he and his wife have had to make.

“My hours have been dropping each week, so now I’m about 30-ish hours, whereas before I was at about 36 to 38 despite the holiday season rush,” Ervin said.

Perez noted similar budgeting struggles.

“We live paycheck to paycheck, so any little change put us in danger,” Perez said.

With more regular scheduling, Ervin said, he could go back to doing more volunteer work in the community as he did previously when he was in the military and in high school.

“Since moving into the civilian workforce, I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve not had a stable schedule,” Ervin said. “The fact I have to try to schedule doctor’s appointments a month in advance, so I can put in vacation time for that, is kind of ridiculous when it could just be a weekend thing.”

PetSmart’s corporate media relations did not return a News Tribune request for comment.

Other findings from the UC-Berkeley report:

“Clopening,” or closing one night and opening the next day, was worked by almost four in 10 respondents.

About 70 percent of part-time workers said they wanted more hours.

A quarter of the workers said they received less than a week’s notice of scheduling, and 21 percent worked on call. On-call practices are often an offshoot of companies’ “just-in-time” labor practices, powered by software scheduling analytics to avoid having too many workers during slow periods.

Seven in 10 said they struggled with care giving issues in their families as a result of their employer’s short-notice scheduling.

28 percent of service sector workers claimed a regular daytime work schedule.

Food insecurity also showed up as an issue among respondents.

According to the report: “Our survey asked all workers, ‘In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford enough food?’ Twenty percent of Washington workers with predictable schedules experienced hunger in the past year, compared to 39 percent of workers with unpredictable schedules.”

Sleep and well being also were examined.

“Thirty-five percent of Washington workers with predictable schedules report good or very good sleep quality, compared to only 15 percent of workers with unpredictable work schedules,” according to the report.

Additionally, “82 percent of Washington workers with predictable schedules report being happy overall, compared to 56 percent of workers with unpredictable work schedules.”

“There is currently no law in the state of Washington that explicitly regulates scheduling practices for hourly service sector workers employed outside of Seattle city limits,” the report noted. “In this context, our data reveal that scheduling practices such as short advance notice and last-minute scheduling changes are a common experience for Washington workers.”

State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, who participated in the forum via phone, said that service and retail workers’ scheduling woes “continue to be an issue for people all across our state but not enough legislators are hearing from the community and hearing about what they’d like to see.”

To that end, Saldaña told the forum participants she was meeting with business leaders and worker advocates “to talk about our pathway for secure scheduling legislation in Olympia this next session.”

Other changes are taking place outside of the political realm.

As cities and states consider or implement ordinances like Seattle’s, companies such as Walmart are moving more toward predictable scheduling. The retail giant announced its new scheduling system for all of its U.S. stores in November.

Starbucks also has made changes with its scheduling policies.

A link to the UC-Berkeley report is at

A video link to Wednesday’s forum is on the Working Washington’s Facebook page: