The Berkeley City Council voted to approve the addition of the Fair Workweek Employment Standards ordinance to the Berkeley Municipal Code on Monday.
The ordinance would mandate covered employers to provide workers with advance notice of work schedules and required working hours. It would also provide workers with flexibility in the face of late schedule changes, including requiring covered employers to provide predictability pay when they cancel a worker’s scheduled hours with less than 14 days’ notice.
“This is about creating fairness for our essential workers like we create fairness for our small businesses,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting. “I see this as really critical to support our essential workers.”
Vice Mayor Kate Harrison, who co-sponsored the bill with Arreguín, said the estimated cost to the city was $92,000, which is significantly lower than the previous estimate of $12 million. Acting city manager Paul Buddenhagen added that the total cost may rise above $250,000 due to natural events such as fires and software installation costs.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf said this figure reassured her about the cost of the ordinance to the city but raised some concerns about the bill during her round of questioning. She said the ordinance should be applicable to businesses with 10 or more locations rather than defining applicability solely by number of employees, pointing to San Francisco and Chicago as examples to follow.
“This city is in trouble, and I think we need to keep this in mind as we move forward with some of these ideas,” Wengraf said at the meeting. “We want more businesses to come to Berkeley, we want the businesses that are successful to grow.”
However, Harrison said she would not accept such an amendment to the ordinance, referring to Emeryville and San Jose as examples of cities that had used the number of employees to define applicability.
Later during public comment, 19 of 23 commenters supported the bill. This included several Berkeley residents who said they or friends of theirs had been personally affected by changing work schedules.
Sam Kessel, a social worker, and Nathan Mizell, the vice chair of the police accountability board, added that they wanted to remove provisions that exempted certain employers from parts of the ordinance.
Andrea Malarkey, a member of the Service Employees International Union 1021 and employee of the Berkeley public library, said it was “shameful” that it had taken four years for the ordinance to reach its current stage and opposed any changes to it.
“I know which side I’m on in this moral equation. I turn it back to y’all to say what side you’re on in this moral equation as a city council,” Malarkey said at the meeting. “We are a city with a robust budget, with a strong financial outlook. We are in trouble if we can’t support workers.”
Beth Roessner, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, raised concerns about the record-keeping requirements stipulated in the ordinance and supported Wengraf’s recommendation to define restaurants by the number of locations they had.
Matthew Sutton of the California Restaurant Association raised concerns about the ordinance. He said restaurants were a “unique beast” and the industry that was most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, adding that they needed time to recover.
“We do our absolute best to provide predictable schedules and manageable schedules for our staff,” Sutton said at the meeting. “Picking on a restaurant just because they chose a certain business model, the franchise model, is not a good policy.”
Following public comment, the city council made additional comments on the ordinance. Arreguín said the council had taken numerous measures to support local businesses and needed to do the same for workers.
The ordinance ultimately passed, with every member present voting in favor. Wengraf was absent during the vote.
“The concerns were overblown,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the meeting. “I hope that as businesses look at their situation after this has passed, they will come to realize that the impacts are not as great as they fear.”