Bob Cooke, partner and co-owner of the Max Restaurant Group, works on filling planters for the patio at Max's Oyster Bar in West Hartford Center in 2020. Cloe Poisson /

Democratic lawmakers are hoping to pass legislation this session that would provide more schedule stability for hourly workers in the service sector.

House Bill 5353, known as the “Fair Work Week bill,” requires employers to compensate hourly workers for scheduled shifts that get canceled with less than a week’s notice. The measure, which would largely apply to workers in the service sector, would also allow workers to decline shifts with less than 11 hours of rest in between. Many small businesses would be exempted from the rules.

The Fair Work Week bill has come before Connecticut’s legislature several times in recent years. A Fair Work Week bill passed the Senate last year but wasn’t voted on in the House.

This year, state Democrats have made the legislation a top priority. House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told the CT Mirror his party is planning to caucus and get hard vote counts on the bill.

“This would greatly improve the quality of life for shift workers who currently have little control over their own schedules and can be left in a nearly impossible scramble to make arrangements for child care and other matters,” Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said in written testimony last month.

Advocates say last-minute schedule changes can make it difficult for workers to plan their daily lives and family budgets, which can lead to housing insecurity and hunger. But many business owners say the rules are impractical, overly burdensome and could lead to staffing shortages at busy times.

“The pandemic has certainly posed massive scheduling challenges for our state’s food stores, as balancing the safety of our workforce and serving consumers has never been more complicated,” Wayne Pesce of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents food retailers, said in written testimony before the labor and public employees committee.

According to researchers with The Shift Project at Harvard Kennedy School, only 19% of service sector workers in Connecticut have a regular daytime schedule. One in 10 have recently had shifts canceled, and roughly a quarter work “on-call,” keeping their schedules open even if they ultimately aren’t assigned a shift.

Hourly workers around the country face similar challenges, and lawmakers have been pushing “fair work week” laws in many states and cities. Among states, Oregon is the only one to have enacted the legislation. Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities have passed “fair work week” scheduling regulations.

Advocates say the rules provide stability not only for workers but for employers as well.

“Workers with unstable schedules have lower job retention,” said Peter Fugiel of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Labor and Employment Relations. “Unsurprisingly, they also report lower job satisfaction.” That creates instability for the businesses they work for, Fugiel said.

Catherine Bradley of Ridgefield worked for several months at a grocery store in Fairfield County, where she said she often learned her schedule only a few days ahead of time, and some shifts would be extended or cut with little notice. Bradley said the uncertainty became unmanageable, and she left the store for a different job with steadier hours.

“If we take businesses at their word, they believe these practices add value to the business — that being able to change schedules day by day and hour by hour adds value to the bottom line,” Fugiel said. “If that’s the case, then it’s only fair that workers should get a share of the value they helped to produce. If they receive no extra compensation, why should they take those jobs and not more stable jobs?” he said.

Erica covers economic development for CT Mirror. Before moving to Connecticut to join the staff she worked in Los Angeles for public radio’s Marketplace and, before that, for the Wall Street Journal's L.A. bureau. She grew up in Minneapolis, MN, graduated from Haverford College and earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California.