On Tuesday night —ironically on May Day— Democratic Senators Joan Hartley and Gayle Slossberg voted with Senate Republicans to kill the Fair Workweek bill: SB 318 “A Bill to Stabilize Working Families by Limiting On-Call Shift Scheduling.” Coming a mere week before Connecticut’s legislature adjourns on May 9, this vote all but guarantees that families experiencing the instability that comes with “just-in-time” work scheduling practices will not see any relief.
By protecting employees from being forced to be “on call” and available for shifts that often never materialize, and by guaranteeing partial compensation for unnecessary last-minute shift cancellations, SB 318 would have done just what its title suggests: help working people across the state who face work scheduling practices that leave them scrambling to meet their responsibilities to their families and their jobs.
People like certified nursing assistant Allison Jones, of Bristol, who in March explained to legislators how unpredictable work schedules took money out of her family’s pockets: “I’d go to work and my shift was cancelled, only to turn back home. But I still had to pay the babysitter. I couldn’t cancel the electric bill, or the doctor bill. But my job had the right to cancel me, so what could I do?”
Allison is one among hundreds of thousands of people —mostly women— working in retail stores, restaurants, hotels, nursing homes, and other low-paying service industries across Connecticut. Like Allison, many of these women have families to support. And far too many face the same challenges.
Survey findings released in April from researchers affiliated with UC Berkeley show that, among retail and food service workers in Connecticut, 85 percent have little to no input in their own work schedules, and a full two-thirds of these workers report that they regularly have to keep their schedules open and available for work that they have no guarantee of receiving. So it’s no surprise that close to three-quarters of the service sector workers surveyed want more stable and predictable work hours.
Almost three-quarters of these workers say their work schedules cause extra stress for their families and make it hard to meet their caregiving responsibilities. Their children pay a price, too. Research shows this kind of stress and instability can undermine young children’s well-being and development. Unstable and unpredictable work schedules also make it exceptionally hard to arrange and afford the high-quality child care that prepares children to succeed in school and enables parents to succeed at work.
Instead, parents dealing with last-minute work schedules often have to make last-minute child care arrangements—which can be “almost impossible,” as Val Crowley, who works in food service in North Stonington, explained in testimony: “As my employer adds more and more on-call shifts, I sometimes worry about . . . having to make the decision of whether to miss my shift, or go to work and then leave a child at home.”
When parents miss work because they were unable to arrange for appropriate child care, employers lose out, too. But providing more consistent hours and advance notice of work schedules makes it easier for employees to consistently come to work and focus on their jobs—creating stability and cost savings for business. And it can boost profitability as well: another new study, done in partnership with Gap, Inc., found that providing more stable work schedules for employees increased sales by 7 percent.
Major cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City have already acted to promote fairer work schedules for their residents, and the first statewide law will go into effect in Oregon this year. Stable and predictable work hours are good for working people, good for children, and good for business.
By voting down a bill that achieves these common-sense goals, a slim majority of Connecticut legislators failed to lead the way for New England states — and their constituents will pay the price.
Julie Vogtman is Director of Job Quality and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.