Unstable, unpredictable, and insufficient: Work scheduling in the service sector in New England
The labor of workers in the retail and food service sector – employed at grocery stores, fast food and casual dining restaurants, in hardware and electronics, in retail and working in warehouses, delivery, and fulfillment – is now, in the COVID-19 pandemic, recognized as “essential.” Yet, these frontline workers have long contended with difficult jobs under precarious conditions. In this report, I take a close look at working conditions in the service sector in New England before the onset of the COVID pandemic. I analyze reports of job quality collected by The Shift Project, which surveyed 2,200 hourly workers employed at 105 of the largest service sector employers in New England. These data permit a detailed breakdown of the often unstable and unpredictable work schedules faced by these workers. I describe the scope of exposure to variable schedules, short advance notice, and just-in-time scheduling practices and show how this variability and unpredictability go along with limited schedule control and often insufficient workers. Women, workers of color, and especially women of color are disproportionately concentrated in the service sector. In New England, these workers are also more likely to be scheduled for fewer hours than they would like. Exposure to these scheduling practices is also negatively associated with worker outcomes. Survey results show that workers with more unstable and unpredictable schedules are significantly less satisfied with their schedules, less satisfied with their jobs overall, and much more likely to intend to find a new job.