Workers’ flexibility laws just got more expensive for businesses

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has passed a bill that requires employers to provide flexible scheduling for employees when they are out of work for extended periods, and could lead to more and better jobs. And now the businesses — most of which are small and family-owned firms that typically don’t have employees or workers on the payroll — are trying to fight the law.

The proposed laws can be explained in two ways. The first is that the law’s advocates claim that there’s an exploitative practice in working-class neighborhoods or ethnic communities, where employers need to collect a fee from new employees. The other is that the law’s supporters claim that the job-saving is a substantial sum of money that could be spent on other things.

The first claim looks to be true. A new Las Vegas law requires employers with 50 or more workers to pay New Year’s Day workers a flat fee, which averages out to about $1 per worker for most businesses. Las Vegas has a tiny labor force compared to most cities (fewer than 140,000 workers), so the fees will be collected from those still employed, although a local law limits how much the city can collect. (The argument doesn’t hold up, however, because Las Vegas can’t possibly collect enough money to justify such a large number of working-class neighborhoods.)

In New York’s proposed cities, however, the fees will be collected from working-class neighborhoods where the need is much larger. Among New York’s largest cities, only Harlem has higher unemployment than downtown Manhattan, as the Census Bureau puts it.

San Francisco passed a similar law last year, but smaller companies opposed it, as did the real estate industry. But what happened is that—due to arguments about ownership and affectivity, rather than for reasons of exploitation—the measure was narrowly tailored, because the stakes are not so high for some workers: two-thirds of San Francisco’s labor force is in urban centers such as the South of Market neighborhood, while more than two-thirds of workers are employed in the suburbs.

In North Carolina, the law was so restrictive that a union representing fast-food restaurant employees sued, saying that if a worker is required to pay fees that go toward supporting the union, that could cost them their jobs. A state judge decided the law was unconstitutional, and it’s likely that it will be appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court.

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