For better or worse, jobs define who we are and how we see ourselves. We identify ourselves and others as a real estate agent, or a lawyer, or a letter carrier, a plumber, or a janitor. We take pride in our jobs; they are a source of respect. We build our lives around our jobs; they are the foundation of our well-being, on how to pay our bills.
Not all jobs are created equal, however. For far too many workers, their jobs, far from being a steady foundation, are instead a source of uncertainty.
Nearly 250,000 workers are employed in Connecticut in retail, food service, and hospitality industries, most of them women and people of color. Many of them earn poverty wages, with unstable schedules that make their lives and their take home pay unpredictable. Their employers keep them “on call,” instead of offering them stable, predictable schedules.
Many of these workers start their week not knowing when they will be called to work or how many shifts they will get. They might be asked to come in with little notice, leaving them scrambling to find childcare or transportation, as they hurriedly have to change their plans. They might be told that they do not need to come in or to go home early, losing income they counted on to pay their bills that week. For those workers with children, they might not know any given day who will be putting their kids to bed or picking them up from school.
Unstable scheduling has become endemic for workers in the service sector. An extensive survey conducted by the Shift Project in 2018 showed that two thirds of Connecticut workers in service jobs described their work schedules as irregular or variable. Employers sometimes tout erratic schedules as a way to provide workers with “flexibility”, but the study makes clear that workers reject that notion. A very large majority of workers (74 percent) expressed a preference for more predictable schedules.
Living in a constant state of scheduling chaos is not just an inconvenience. Research shows that workers that have unstable schedules are considerably more likely to be food insecure or even experience homelessness compared to workers with predictable schedules with similar incomes. Their health is worse, as the stress takes a toll – and that stress has an impact on their children as well, who are considerably more likely to feel sad or angry, miss school, and even not get adequate sleep.
The good news is that these impacts are easy to reverse. Fair Workweek laws like the ones passed in New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Oregon can greatly limit this corporate habit of erratic scheduling, and respect the time and effort of its workers. In Connecticut, the Labor and Public Employees Committee has voted on H.B. 5353, a bill that largely adopts this same template.
The impact of these bills is immediate. In Seattle, researchers found that the legislation reduced food insecurity among workers with erratic schedules by seven points, with an even bigger impact in homelessness (ten points). Workers reported being happier and sleeping better at night. All this took place, by the way, with no discernible negative impact on employers, but quite the opposite: Workers missed fewer shifts, were more productive, and employee turnover went down.
There are not many social programs, let alone policies, that can lead to a drop of deep poverty, let alone make people sleep better at night. Respecting workers’ time and schedules by implementing a Fair Workweek bill does that.
In Connecticut, hundreds of thousands of low wage hourly workers, many earning poverty wages, struggle to earn a stable income because of unpredictable work schedules.
It is time for legislators to pass H.B. 5353, Fair Workweek Bill and ensure Connecticut workers have access to a stable job that respects them, their time, and their families, and gives them a path to opportunity.
Roger Senserrich lives in East Haven.