Members of an Evanston City Council committee on Monday, Feb. 6, held off moving forward on an ordinance that would require employers to provide employees with predictable work schedules, including advance notice of changes.

After strong criticism from members of the business community, who questioned the basis for the new requirements, Human Services Committee members voted unanimously to table any action on what would be the city’s first Fair Workweek ordinance until their March 6 meeting.

Hewn Bakery on Central Street. Photo provided.

“What is the tangible data that indicates it is needed for small businesses?” asked Julie Matthei, co-owner and Director of Business Operations at Hewn Bread, one of a number of speakers who addressed the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Have employees asked for assistance from the city with respect to hours and scheduling? I would love to see the evidence of this type of oversight, and know if it’s really needed in the Evanston small-business community.”

Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward) proposed the ordinance in an earlier referral to the city’s Referrals Committee.

The ordinance would “provide workers in specific industries advance notice of schedules and schedule changes, the right to rest between closing and opening shifts, and also give them the first opportunity to work additional shifts (as opposed to hiring new, part time employees),” summed up Alison Leipsiger, the city’s policy coordinator, in a memo.

The ordinance, which is also backed by Mayor Daniel Biss, would apply to a wide range of industries and workplaces that employ 15 or more employees, such as child care, health care, hospitality facilities, restaurants and nursing homes.

Reid argued at the meeting that the ordinance seeks to protect the “right to predictability, the right to ensure that employers are giving their employees schedules two weeks in advance, so a mother can schedule parent-teacher conferences or a father can schedule taking their children to the doctor or to other visits.”

Biss, who does not serve on the Human Services Committee, appeared before the panel at the Feb. 6 meeting to speak in support of the proposal. He said the issue is an important one at a time when there is a child care crisis, pointing out that the measure would offer workers protection against last-minute changes that would otherwise make child care “impossible and unaffordable.” 

To that, he added, “There’s a crisis, we’re told by physicians, with sleep in this country that’s taking away our attention and our capacity for empathy.” He pointed to how the ordinance would address what’s referred to as “clopening” – by requiring a minimum of 11 hours between shifts, so workers can rest or sleep.

“And [the proposal] does a number of important things,” he told committee members, “which is why ordinances and laws like this are being introduced – in fact, passing – in a number of communities all over the country.”

Matthei: We work side by side with employees

But some speakers associated with Evanston’s most-praised businesses questioned the need for the changes in an already difficult business environment.

Julie Matthei, co-owner of Hewn Bread Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

Matthei told committee members, “If the city council is determined to create an ordinance like this, then it should be amended to mirror the ordinance as it is written in Chicago, which affects businesses that employ 100 or more employees and exempts restaurants with less than 250 employees.

“As small-business owners, we work directly with our co-workers every day,” she said. “It’s not an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality. We are in the trenches – not in an ivory tower.

“Go to any small business in Evanston and you will see the owners working side by side with employees because we care. We care about our business, we care about our staff. We want to retain good people and provide everyone who works with us a collaborative and positive environment.”

Morton urges more support, fewer restrictions

Similarly, Amy Morton, owner of The Barn Steakhouse and co-owner of LeTour restaurant (and former owner of the now-closed Found Kitchen and Social House), questioned the ordinance’s wide reach, noting that “especially since Covid, we have never had greater benefits” for employees.

Amy Morton, owner of The Barn Steakhouse and co-owner of LeTour. Credit: City of Evanston YouTube

“We have chosen to create great benefits for our teams, whether they’re full- or part-time employees, because we couldn’t get employees otherwise,” she told committee members. “And we still can’t get employees, and to have these rigid, insane restrictions put on small businesses is the farthest thing [from what] … is going to grow our community’s belief in each other, and our ability to stay vibrant and alive.

“Even if we have a full, burgeoning busy downtown area and not have … storefronts empty, it still wouldn’t be a good idea,” said Morton, an Evanston resident since 2007. “This is something that needs to be focused on large businesses, and we as small businesses and community members need more support from the city rather than restrictions.”

Researcher says changes boost bottom line

Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago who has studied staffing and scheduling practices and the ramifications for workers for more than 20 years, spoke in support of the ordinance.

In 2017, Lambert told the committee, she studied the implementation of Seattle’s Fair Workweek law by a group of front-end managers in the retail and food service.

The workplaces covered by the Seattle law had a median size of 35 employees, she said.

“Overall, in studying these kinds of the doomsday scenarios that have been raised by employers in many of these different cities during the course of discussion of these laws, they just have not occurred,” Lambert said. 

She added, “One of the first lessons that we’ve learned is that there is certainly a learning curve. But setting the new work-hour standards is feasible with what experienced managers can [do], and most even like – for example, posting schedules further in advance, and eliminating changes to the schedule.”

Further, she said, research has shown that “improving the predictability and stability of work schedules can be good for businesses’ bottom line.”

She cited a randomized trial that she and colleagues conducted on stores in the broader Chicago area, including Evanston.

“And what we found is that improving work schedules for employees resulted in higher sales,” she said. Just as important, she added, “Rather than increasing labor costs, improving employee work schedules lowered labor costs, and our data was to show how this happened.”

She said establishing predictable schedules resulted in less tardiness and fewer employee call-outs from work, and so reduced budget costs by cutting how many extra hours co-workers had to be paid to cover for absent employees.

“These costs cascade throughout the day and across weeks,” Lambert said, “and they add up to significant increase outlays for labor.”

Committee decides more discussion needed

In discussion of the issue, Council Member Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward) expressed surprise “that we are applying it [the proposal] to businesses of only 15 employees, whereas most of the Fair Workweek laws around the country seem to be aimed at much larger workforces, and particularly chain stores.”

She said there were a number of good points in the proposal, “but I really think we need more conversation with our small-business community, in particular, to really make this work for everybody.”

Council Member Juan Geracaris (9th Ward), chairing the meeting, said he was surprised how negative the response has been to the proposal. “I’m also struggling to find out what the sticking points are.”

He and other committee members debated whether to table the issue for more discussion, or send it to the full council, where the proposal would be introduced and then voted on in two weeks.

Reid favored moving the issue to the council, maintaining concern about small businesses being included in the ordinance was the only issue he had heard raised.

“But what is it in the ordinance,” Reid asked, “specifically which one of the provisions is it that folks don’t want to have to follow? And that’s what I’d like to hear, not just that we want to exclude small businesses because it’s too onerous on them.

“It’s too onerous on workers. What about the employees that work at these businesses and have to be submitted to some of these unfair practices?”

Speaking next, Revelle broadened her suggestion for follow-up to include the different industries that would be affected by the changes.

Council Member Bobby Burns (5th Ward) supported keeping the issue in committee and receiving more feedback, but said, “I think we need to go further than just include small businesses. I think we need to know why [the opposition]. I think we need to know exactly where the pain points are.”

Some of the concerns, he said, are similar to what the last city council heard concerning passing a higher minimum wage.

“Remember, there were a lot of small businesses that came out, some of which I know well, and most of us know well, who were saying that too would affect small businesses,” he said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. The proposals in this ordinance all seem incredibly reasonable. I’d have to echo the council members asking which rules specifically are business owners against? Giving schedules in advance and allowing workers to sleep a full night between shifts is simply treating employees with basic respect. Seems like a no-brainer especially since small biz folks keep complaining about not being able to find workers. Make a better offer and people will want to work for you.

  2. We have real problems. This is not one….unless evidence brought forward. Seems like we have too many non- issues brought forward by some council members. If these are actual versus potential problems, I would appreciate the advocacy. But potentials just take up energy we need to avoid. Table this and move on….

  3. One more reason to close shop in Evanston and move operations North. I feel sorry for business owners in Evanston. The town continues to veer hard left, accelerating business flight.
    Evanston has learned nothing from their COVID policy disasters. These proposed remedies to injustice are far worse than the disease. Workers who don’t like their hours can get a new job. The outcome of new rules will not cause better hours for workers. Rather, the new rules will result in similar hours… at a new restaurant in Wilmette.

  4. Who does this city council think they are. What do they have to do how a business conducts their business? This is outrageous, egregious and callous. City councils don’t run businesses. This sounds like a tyrannical exercise of power that is not in their hands to grasp

    1. Indeed! The City Council seems to assume that all of our Evanston employers are the likes of a Simon Legree or an Ebenezer Scrooge, cruelly treating and flogging their employees…

      Many restaurants have had to limit hours because they simply cannot find enough staff. Several restaurant owners have told me that they are desperate for help, and will bend over backwards to reasonably accommodate employee scheduling and other needs… *still* they cannot find people…

      This is just the latest in a series of “manufactured crises” that the Council seem to relish inflicting on our business community. Last week it was the proposed bag tax, before that the proposed gas stove ban, and before that the proposal requiring all retail businesses to take cash…

      Next week the Council will no doubt find another urgent “crisis” to further flummox our business community – stay tuned…!!!

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  5. Here is an opposing view:

    New Study: “Fair Work Week” Laws Force Employees To Go Part-Time

    Friday, February 4, 2022

    “So-called “fair scheduling” laws politicians say incentivize full-time jobs actually shift employees involuntarily to more part-time work, a new University of Kentucky study supported by the Employment Policies Institute finds…

    Aaron Yelowitz, economist at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, compared numbers of those working part-time involuntarily before and after scheduling laws were enacted in San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Oregon. Yelowitz’s analysis concludes that instead of increasing the proportion of employees working full-time schedules, the laws “led to a shift toward part-time employment, primarily driven by workers who wanted to work full-time.”

    Yelowitz’s new study concurs with a larger body of research that indicates this cost-benefit calculation leads many employers to schedule fewer employees – to avoid having too many staff in low-demand situations and facing penalties for rearranging work schedules. Instead of incentivising full-time employment and schedule stability, employees who prefer or want full-time schedules see their shifts reduced and status pushed to part-time involuntarily. Past reports show businesses reduce hiring, limit extra shifts for employees that want them, and overall reduce flexibility and profitability of jobs in affected industries. One survey found in anticipation of scheduling legislation in 2020, 67% of restaurant operators reduced employee hours, wages, or benefits, or laid off employees entirely…”

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  6. So we want to require mandatory breaks between shifts, but first option to pick up more shifts? Huh? Who is this really for? And how would this ordinance be enforced? Will the city subsidize payrolls when unpredictable events occur? Perhaps an Evanston small biz workers union could monitor all business schedules and provide substitute labor on demand? The reason employees may be subject to “unfair” conditions is because of lack of opportunity in the job market. The city really needs to focus on incentives for bringing back small businesses not more restrictions to keep them out.