Retail workers for the national clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch will soon no longer be expected to work shifts at a moment’s notice, thanks to a change in corporate scheduling policy made public Thursday evening and announced in response to pressure from the New York state attorney general’s office.
The company will phase out on-call shifts for New York employees in September and ultimately end the practice nationwide, Abercrombie & Fitch Senior Vice President Robert E. Bostrom announced in a Wednesday letter to the attorney general’s labor bureau chief.
“What this means is that Abercrombie’s hourly and shift workers will not be required to hold their schedules open for shifts which they may or may not ultimately be asked to work,” Bostrom wrote. “Instead, a week prior to the start of their workweek, employees will be provided with a schedule that lists all of the shifts they are required to work during the coming week."
Unpredictable scheduling is common practice in the low-wage service sector. Half of retail workers and nearly two-thirds of food service workers are assigned shifts with less than a week’s notice, according to a 2014 study by University of Chicago researchers. The same report found that erratic scheduling disproportionately affects employees who are parents and people of color.
Such scheduling has become a target of labor groups that are trying to lift pay in low-wage service industries. Union-backed groups such as the Retail Action Project have been campaigning against on-call scheduling for years.
Project director Rachel LaForest applauded the change at Abercrombie & Fitch in a statement provided to Al Jazeera, and she pointed out a handful of other national chains that have yet to follow suit.
“Unfortunately, other retailers such as Banana Republic, Gap and Urban Outfitters still don’t give their employees adequate notice of what hours they will work,” she said. “We need to hold the entire industry accountable."
Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, said that worker organizing has drawn consumer attention to on-call scheduling, adding to the public pressure on companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch to change their labor practices.
“These corporations are realizing it’s not good for their image and, as a result, for their bottom line to treat workers this way. But there’s a long way to go,” she said.
Abercrombie & Fitch said in a statement that the company “is committed to being a leader in its workplace practices” and that the change in scheduling practices “reflects our commitment to creating a positive work environment."
In response to public outcry, some large retailers — including Gap, Walmart, Target and McDonald's — have instituted modest wage increases. Last year, a day after The New York Times published an exposé on last-minute scheduling practices at Starbucks, the global coffee chain announced that it would make employee schedules more predictable.
As labor organizing around scheduling practices has drawn national attention, public officials have started to take action. In July, congressional Democrats introduced the Schedules That Work Act, legislation intended to give employees more say in setting their work schedules. San Francisco adopted a Retail Workers Bill of Rights in the past year; that legislation includes penalties for large retailers that use erratic scheduling.
In April, Terri Gerstein — the labor bureau chief for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — wrote to 13 retailers with locations in the state, warning them that their scheduling policies may violate state law. Abercrombie & Fitch was among those retailers.
Bostrom’s letter to the attorney general’s office was a direct response to that warning. Despite the policy change at his company, Bostrom emphasized that Abercrombie & Fitch “believes that it has at all times been complying with the law relating to call-in shift scheduling in New York and throughout the United States."
The other retailers to receive letters from the attorney general’s office included Gap, Target and Urban Outfitters. Gap spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson told Al Jazeera that the company is currently examining its scheduling practices with the help of experts from the UC Hastings College of Law.
"This is an area where we acknowledge a real opportunity for improvement, to identify sustainable solutions for our employees and for the needs of our business," said Wilkinson in a statement. "Each of our brands have made a commitment to evaluate their practices and determine where we may be able to improve scheduling stability for our employees, while continuing to drive productivity in stores."