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Fair Workweek first step in better working conditions for Philadelphians | Opinion

This Labor Day we must build a renewed sense of worker power through new forms of organizing and new policy solutions.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym.
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym.Read moreGENEVA HEFFERNAN / File Photograph

This Labor Day, workers deserve much more than our words. They deserve our actions.

We don't need to look any further than our own city to see the power of working people leading on critical issues in our economy and society.

Long before this year's teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona rocked the nation, I marched alongside Philadelphia teachers who fought for and won a contract to restore essential classroom resources and keep middle-class jobs in our city. I've met with hotel workers and nurses who are unionizing for better care by keeping client ratios at sustainable levels, and I've supported Philadelphia's airport workers who won a multiyear battle for a living-wage contract that offers them a path out of poverty.

For the last year, I've been listening to Philadelphians who work at some of the largest retail and fast-food chains in the country, yet make among the lowest wages in our economy. Retail, hospitality, and food service are the second-largest sector of Philadelphia's economy and growing fast. There are more than 130,000 workers in hourly jobs that have little predictability in scheduling or guarantee of hours. As a result, these are Philadelphians struggling to make ends meet, trying to go to school and gain new skills, juggling multiple jobs, and scrambling for affordable childcare.

A recent Philadelphia study of these workers showed that almost 80 percent don't have a regular daytime work schedule and 45 percent have schedules so chaotic that they cannot predict a weekly income. The stakes are especially high for working parents: Many lose out on childcare subsidies or access to benefits when their hours fluctuate dramatically. And a significant percentage of workers say they forgo school or other employment in order to keep their schedules open in case they are called into work.

This doesn't just impact workers. There's a big hit on businesses as well, in terms of high turnover, low customer satisfaction ratings, and threats from e-commerce. A recent study at the Gap showed that when their retail stores provided predictable and stable scheduling, productivity and profitability improved and employee turnover declined. 

After hearing these stories from our constituents, our City Council took action.

We held a hearing and met with dozens of businesses, worker organizations, students, and nonprofit advocacy groups. And in June, eight council members introduced a bill that would require large corporations to give workers a two-week notice of their schedules, a right to rest between shifts, and a pathway to gain more hours. This "Fair Workweek" bill is one of the most powerful tools municipalities can use to both support workers and encourage sustainable growth for business.

In passing our Fair Workweek bill, Philadelphia will join 17 states and municipalities who recognize that stable and predictable schedules are smart for business and smart for workers.

We have a long way to go.

This Labor Day, we must build a renewed sense of worker power through new forms of organizing and new policy solutions.  From gig workers, like those who deliver our food and packages, to the retail, food service, and hospitality workers who are rallying for "Fair Workweek" legislation, I am committed to supporting the next phase of the labor movement and the fight for economic justice.

Helen Gym is an at-large member of Philadelphia City Council.