The Evanston City Council adopted the city’s first Fair Workweek ordinance on May 22, requiring employers to provide employees with predictable work schedules, including advance notice of changes.

Council Members Thomas Suffredin (from left), Eleanor Revelle and Devon Reid listen to speakers at Monday’s council meeting. Reid proposed the Fair Workweek ordinance that ultimately passed by a 6-2 vote.
Credit: Bob Seidenberg

The ordinance that passed by a 6-2 vote Monday excludes several major industries and in most cases will only apply to businesses with 100 or more employees, not 15 as originally proposed.

The ordinance grew out of concerns during COVID-19 as workers were required to change their schedules on short notice, and sometimes told to report to work with little time off between shifts.

The new law requires covered employers to give workers 14 days notice of their work schedule and compensate workers if the schedule changes within that 14-day window. It also requires that current part-time employees be offered additional shifts before an employer posts additional part-time positions.

In addition, it prevents “clopening shifts,” requiring a minimum of 11 hours off between shifts so workers can rest or sleep, with extra compensation if there are fewer than 11 hours between closing and opening shifts, said Alison Leipsiger, the city’s policy coordinator, summing up some of the key points of the legislation.

The ordinance covers businesses with 100 or more employees (globally) in the industries of building services (janitorial), warehouse services, manufacturing and retail. Food service and restaurant businesses are covered if they have 200-plus employees globally.

‘In a good place to move forward’: Reid

Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward), proposed the ordinance and received strong backing from Mayor Daniel Biss.

At the May 22 meeting, Reid thanked his colleagues for “really approaching this ordinance … with open eyes and willingness to really hear the concerns of many communities – both the business community and, particularly, our hospitals and other groups.”

“We’ve incorporated a lot of the feedback that we saw as reasonable into this ordinance and we’re really in a good place to move forward,” Reid said.

Several council members had concerns about the ordinance as it was written, including Krissie Harris (2nd Ward).

“I am being bombarded by my residents, by my businesses. They are not in favor of this,” she declared at the start of discussion.

Those businesses included Valli Produce, which has been a key business in the rejuvenation of Evanston Plaza, after Dominick’s grocery pulled up stakes in 2013 from the shopping complex at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

Valli lodges complaints

“Valli Produce has finally been brought into the loop regarding the proposal for a Fair Workweek ordinance in Evanston,” wrote Carmine Presta, a Valli owner, in an email to council members.

“At first reading, we were dumbfounded by the unjust legal ramifications and the enormous amounts of administrative requirements for a problem that does not exist in our retail business,” Presta said, adding that while Valli has been in Evanston since 2008, the business has been in operation since 1977.

Valli Produce would like to opt out of the new Fair Workweek ordinance approved by the Evanston City Council May 22. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

“As a family-run business, we are working side-by-side with our employees daily, year-round,” Presta said. “We are completely in-tune with their scheduling needs, and we offer tremendous flexibility with scheduling for all employees.”

Presta said the problems the Fair Workweek ordinance seeks to prevent largely do not apply at Valli, but the ordinance’s requirements would penalize the grocer.

“The process of hiring new employees per the ordinance would add extra expense to our business,” Presta said in his email. “If permanent additional work hours are needed, we have always appealed to our current workforce first, especially part-time employees, to fill this need. We cannot stress enough that employees dictate their availability for their regularly scheduled work hours and any additional hours that may become available.

“The administrative and penalty requirements of this ordinance will destroy schedule flexibility for the employee.”

Amendments narrow scope

Several council members joined Harris in citing concerns, including Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward) and Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward).

Revelle said council members had received a letter from some of the city’s landscape services, “making, I think, a very good case for excluding them from the ordinance.”

Council members voted 7-0 in support of her amendment, removing landscape services from being covered by the ordinance.

Revelle won another amendment, raising the employee threshold at which a business is covered by the ordinance from 15 to 100 workers.

Responding to Revelle’s amendment, Reid pointed to workers on the other side of the issue from Valli, who he said don’t normally communicate with council members but are in support of the proposed worker protections.

“Folks who don’t vote in our municipal elections, again, folks who don’t engage with us,” he said. “And these are the folks that I’m having conversations with. And young parents who are suffering from a lack of clarity about their schedule.

“How many folks that live in the Margarita, and how many homeless folks in our community, reached out to you about Margarita,” he asked council members, referring to the issue addressed earlier in the meeting, “and I guarantee it’s zero, because … that’s not what disenfranchised people do, unfortunately, in our current system.

“There was a huge imbalance here,” he said. “There are people who want this, there are people who support this. People out there need this and want this and want us to look out for them.”

Council members voted 8-0 in favor of Revelle’s amendment to raise the employee threshold to 100 workers.

If Valli has more than 100 employees, it will be subject to the ordinance, Leipsiger said later.

Some seek more review

Council Member Clare Kelly (1st Ward), noted that council members had earlier removed nursing homes from inclusion, yet some long-term care venues wouldn’t fall into this category. She asked for more review of the ordinance to avoid “unintended consequences.”

Harris also argued that the proposal could use more review.

“Again, we are coming out of a pandemic,” Harris said. “And we’re making all of these decisions and rules and taxes for our businesses who have not had the opportunity” to get back on their feet, she said.

“They’re walking, they’re starting from crawling and they’re walking, and I just want us to pay attention to that,” she said. “And have a little more data on who does this affect.

“We’ve caught three or four things just by happenstance. And again it doesn’t bode well for the Second Ward, because that’s all my landscapers, that’s Valli, that’s the day care,” she said before the council voted 6-2 to pass the ordinance, with Harris and Nieuwsma opposed. Council Member Thomas Suffredin (6th Ward) was not present at the vote.

More council coverage: Margarita Inn homeless shelter wins council approval

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. Most town councils tend to represent the business community with no representation from the employee community. The business community has the resources to look after its interests, the employee community has no resources of its own to look after its interests…wait they do….its called a union. If the disenfranchised were to unionize, they would have a voice on the Evanston council. Unions provide employee representation in issues like this.

  2. From the article:

    “At first reading, we were dumbfounded by the unjust legal ramifications and the enormous amounts of administrative requirements for a problem that does not exist in our retail business,” [Valli owner] Presta said… “The administrative and penalty requirements of this ordinance will destroy schedule flexibility for the employee…”

    A statement like this is a *huge* red flag! My first thought is, “When will Valli’s owners say “ENOUGH!” and decide to move on?”; many other businesses are thinking the same, no doubt. When the situation with these anti – business regulations hits real “critical mass”, Evanston can kiss its tax base and the resultant economic vitality goodbye – instead of “Evanston Thrives”, it will be “Evanston Dies”. Remember: “death by a thousand cuts” starts with just *one* cut…

    Many of our current Evanston politicos seem to paint any and all businesses with the very broad “Capitalists are evil oppressors!” brush – no matter if it’s a small struggling concern or a larger one. But unlike Lenin’s post – 1917 USSR, these “capitalists” are free to close up shop here and move to more business – friendly locales. We see Evanston giving virtual “carte blanche” to NGO’s that provide no economic “added value”, while forcing tax – paying businesses to jump through numerous useless hoops both picayune and substantial – see “Margarita Inn vs. King Home” for a current example…

    OTOH kudos to Council members Harris and Revelle for their “real world” business sense – they realize that “money has to come from somewhere”. As for Council member Reid’s allusion to people who are “disenfranchised”, the *best* way to become “enfranchised” is by accessing good jobs, and for those jobs we *absolutely* need a welcoming and transparent economic climate so businesses can thrive…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident