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Philadelphia’s Fair Workweek law gets delayed. Advocates call it ‘embarrassing.’

The city says the delay is necessary to make sure businesses can comply. But advocates are suspicious.

In December 2018, the city passed a "Fair Workweek" law mandating more predictable schedules for service workers. Now, it's delaying implementation for three months.
In December 2018, the city passed a "Fair Workweek" law mandating more predictable schedules for service workers. Now, it's delaying implementation for three months.Read moreJARED PIPER/CITY COUNCIL

A month before Philadelphia’s Fair Workweek scheduling law was to go into effect, the city has announced that the implementation date will be pushed back three months to ensure businesses have time to comply, and advocates are suspicious of the move.

The law, passed by City Council last December amid protest from industry groups, aims to give more predictable schedules to the 130,000 service workers employed by retail, fast-food, and hotel chains in Philadelphia. It was the first in a series of cutting-edge, worker-oriented laws that the city passed in the last year, a point of pride for Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, which has boasted about its support of low-wage workers. Now, advocates say they’re concerned about what this delay suggests about the future of worker-protection laws in the city.

“It is embarrassing for our city to pass groundbreaking worker protections, only to kowtow to industry pressures after the fact or delay implementation due to lack of preparation,” the Coalition to Respect Every Worker (CREW), a group of worker organizations that have advocated for these laws, said in a statement.

The group asked the city to keep the original implementation date and to add more resources to the Mayor’s Office of Labor.

» READ MORE: How slow-to-act Philadelphia came to pass some of the most cutting-edge worker laws in the nation

The office, which is in charge of enforcing the city’s labor laws, said the delay was necessary to ensure that the law meets its intended goal, which office spokesperson Candace Chewning described as “changing the scheduling practices of the industry.”

“Our office wants that to happen,” she said, “absolutely.”

A stakeholder group composed of representatives from worker and business groups met throughout the spring and summer to hammer out regulations — the fine print of how a law works. In October, during the public comment period on the drafted regulations, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, a business group that opposed the law, and Littler, an employer-side law firm, requested a public hearing, which was held last month.

Most of the comments during the public comment period, Chewning said, were focused on predictability pay — the penalty that an employer must pay when it changes a worker’s schedule after the two-week notice period — and “good faith estimates” of a schedule that an employer must give a worker when the person is hired.

As part of the implementation delay, the good-faith estimates requirement of the law will not be enforced until July 1, the city said.

» READ MORE: How Philly’s office to protect workers is changing after a sputtering start

Chewning said it’s not clear yet whether and how the drafted regulations will change.

Melissa Bova, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the delay would help because, among other reasons, some businesses were still trying to find software that would allow them to follow the law.

“This delay, of three months, merely gives the time needed for compliance — which is good news for employers and employees,” she said.

» READ MORE: 7 groups chased Council members around City Hall to make a plea for more labor enforcement funding

Rachel Deutsch, a lawyer with the Center for Popular Democracy who has worked on these laws across the country, said the response from industry groups isn’t surprising.

“It’s very common for employers to try to ‘relitigate’ the policy questions that were already decided by the City Council during the rule-making process,” she wrote in an email.

The Mayor’s Office of Labor has seen significant growth in the last year, as worker coalition CREW lobbied for more funding for the office charged with education and enforcement of these laws. From 2016 to 2018, the office received about 20 complaints a year from workers who thought their employers had broken the law — suggesting that workers in Philadelphia had no idea about the laws passed to protect them.