Update: Gap Has Indeed Ended “On-Call” Shifts

Photo: Jae C. Hong/ AP Photo.
Update: Gap Inc. announced on August 26 that the company will in fact end on-call shifts at all five of its brands (Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and Intermix) by the end of September. “We recognize that flexibility, inclusive of consistent and reliable scheduling, is important to all of our employees," the company said in a statement, according to The New York Times. Employees at all Gap-owned brands will now receive their schedules at least 10 to 14 days in advance.

This article was originally published at 10:45 a.m. on August 18, 2015.

If you've ever held a retail job that required you wait to see if you're working that day, you might be one of the last generations to have been a part of the controversial “on-call” shift. The practice was nixed in June at Victoria’s Secret as a result of an employee lawsuit, and last month, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Abercrombie Kids locations in New York state followed suit. Could Gap be the next to stop requiring employees to take part in this practice? The on-call process demands that store workers must be available and must call in to their employers during specific time slots, but they will not get paid if they aren’t needed on the selling floor that day.

Yesterday, The Guardian ran a lengthy personal piece by a Gap employee, R.L. Stephens II, about the financial insecurity of on-call shifts. Stephens said the retailer often gave two hours (or less) of notice before a “call-in” shift — and described having only nine guaranteed hours of pay out of 18 hours of potential work (known as “penciled-in shifts”).

“The volatility of on-call scheduling, in combination with the low pay, meant my life at Gap wasn’t all that different from when I was unemployed,” Stephens told The Guardian of going to a food pantry for groceries, living sans heat at home because the rates were too high, and even transferring Gap locations because costs of living were too steep to survive on with the erratic pay of a gig that uses on-call practices.

If Gap Inc. followes the examples set by Victoria’s Secret and the A&F trifecta of brands, that could affect a ton of retail employees at the company’s various labels (Gap proper, Old Navy, and Banana Republic; the company also owns Athleta and Intermix). In February, Gap Inc. raised its minimum hourly rate to $9 for 2014 and $10 per hour in 2015, affecting 65,000 employees at its U.S. retail outposts across its brand portfolio; The New York Times called the pay hike “a surprising move.”

That said, Gap has had some rough moments recently, including its announcement in June that 175 locations would shutter, mostly in North America, and 250 employees would be laid off. (The retailer has also contended with lackluster sales and the farewell of creative director Rebekka Bay.) The retailer’s reason for slimming down its outposts and employee headcount — a directive of newish CEO Art Peck — was to save approximately $25 million annually. Although it’s tricky to price out how much a retailer (Gap, and retailers in general) “saves” via its call-in practices, it certainly is cheaper to pay employees on an as-needed basis, shift by shift.

Gap hasn’t made any mention of possibly ending on-call shifts yet, but the retailer’s parent company was one of 13 major retailers that received letters from the New York State Attorney General’s Office in April. A&F was also on that list of retailers — if that letter was the impetus (or even a factor) in its deciding to end on-call shifts, why couldn’t that fear of state involvement do the same for Gap Inc.? Granted, A&F changed this practice only at its New York state locations, but at least it’s a start. And if a retailer as big and ubiquitous as Gap did away with the practice as well (even if just in New York state), perhaps it could push other major retailers to make a similar move.

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