Don't Take Job Opportunities from Those in Need

Don't Take Job Opportunities from Those in Need
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Since Ben’s Chili Bowl opened up shop in Washington, D.C in 1958, we've worked with employees, commiserated with colleagues, and served a community that has a unique ability to recover from economic booms and busts — not to mention bounce-back from the misguided policies of our local elected officials as well our federal overseers, who always seem to know what’s ‘best’ for the District.

Businesses in Washington, D.C., like ours, have faced our share of setbacks, but I believe our best and brightest days are ahead. We’re committed to remaining in the communities we serve — not only by providing goods and services but also by creating jobs for all types of workers with various needs.

I stand with our city council in the fight to improve the living standards of the working class by raising wages and improving benefits. But tied to these important bills is another piece of legislation that would turn back the clock to a time when jobs and investment fled our city in favor of the suburbs. As a businessman, I cannot support it.

The Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015 institutes a roadblock between me and my employees. It presents an undue burden on working parents, students, seniors, and workers with multiple jobs; it makes my job as a boss harder, and their lives as employees less stable. Proponents have described the bill as giving workers better advance notice of their schedules and consistency in their lives. If that’s all it did, I’d support it. But the bill goes much further than that. It not only requires me and my fellow business owners to post employees’ schedules well in advance but penalizes us financially every time a manager or supervisor tries to communicate with employees inside that window. 

For example, if one of my employees usually works the Monday morning shift but calls in sick or finds himself stuck on the Metro due to a line closure or delay, I’d be punished financially for asking his co-workers to pick up his hours or swap shifts. Essentially, I’d be left unable to communicate additional staffing needs in the face of any number of variables, from a late night playoff game, to a crippling snowstorm. I worry that this not only hampers my ability to do business but also scares away potential investment from other businesses looking to set-up shop in the District alongside me.

The bill also requires that I offer more hours to every existing employee before hiring a new part-time worker. This is a logistical nightmare for an employer like me. But, what’s more, it decreases opportunity for workers who aren’t necessarily looking to pick up extra hours. Whether they’re high school or college students balancing hectic schedules, working parents confronting shifting childcare needs, or seniors looking to supplement Social Security benefits without working full time, the results will be the same: the part-time jobs that many of my employees — and employees of other, similar businesses — have come to rely on will be gone.

Small business owners worry every day about how their employees will make ends meet. My own business is just as much about my employees as it is about me and our customers. The difference between this bill and other measures such as increased minimum wage is that we can’t just raise our prices by a few cents to adjust to market conditions. Instead, this bill would fundamentally change the way we do business by limiting access to a reliable workforce.

And, without a reliable workforce, new and existing businesses will have to decide if the District is the place where they want to operate — or if somewhere in the suburbs makes more sense. I think we all know what the answer will be, and I can’t say I blame them. Restrictive scheduling hurts established businesses and discourages others from setting up shop. That’s never a good thing.

Kamal Ali is co-owner of Ben's Chili Bowl, a landmark restaurant in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Flickr mamojo (CC))

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