We want our jobs to be a source of pride and stability, something we can rely on. Jobs define us in ways that go much further than just our wages; in many ways, we build our lives around them.
Although they do not define who we are, they can be a big contributor in defining who we can become. A good job is a foundation, a starting point.
Years of rising inequality, discrimination, and attacks on worker’s rights, however, have eroded these foundations, especially for low-income workers of color.
More than a quarter million part-time workers in our state live with no set schedules. On any given week, they do not know how many hours they are going to work or when their next shift will be. Living without a stable, predictable paycheck remains part of the daily routine of nearly 70,000 tipped workers in Connecticut. Instead of the soon-to-be $15 minimum wage that we set as standard for most employees, they have to rely on a complicated and unreliable system of tip credits and the good will of their employers.
And for many workers, their job can conflict with their own health. Over 88% of Connecticut workers do not have paid sick days guaranteed by our state’s current law, meaning that when they feel sick, they might have to make a choice between their health, or putting food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Last month, hundreds of workers came to Connecticut’s State Capitol to tell their stories and demand a change at a public hearing in the Labor and Public Employees Committee. They spoke of having to scramble several times a month to find someone to take care of their kids as they were called to work with little notice. They told lawmakers about times when they had to lower the thermostat at home after getting several slow shifts in a row working in a restaurant, or wondering if they would be able to pay rent. They went over the many experiences they had with working while sick or in pain because they could not afford to stay home and take care of themselves, and instead needed to earn a paycheck to cover their bills and not fall behind on a car payment.
There is an important truth behind all these stories: our state and our laws let them happen. We are told to trust employers to respect their workers and do what is best for them. What we see, time and time again, is that workers cannot rely on the goodwill of their companies to have stable scheduling, a fair wage, or paid sick time. They need legislation setting basic labor standards, and they keep showing up at the Capitol demanding legislators set those standards.
The General Assembly is considering three bills that will create these standards — a workers’ equity agenda to ensure everyone in Connecticut has access to a good job they can rely on. H.B. 6859 will provide predictable schedules to food service, hospitality, long-term care, and retail workers in Connecticut, making employers post shifts two weeks in advance, and compensating employees in case of last-minute changes. S.B 1177 will eliminate the separate tipped-worker subminimum wage, ensuring that tipped workers have reliable, predictable incomes. S.B. 1178 will expand access to paid sick days to almost every worker in the state, so no one is forced to put their paycheck ahead of their health. The three bills, together, will create a strong baseline for workers; the foundation they need to move ahead.
These standards are sorely needed. Workers that face unstable schedules are much more likely to struggle to make ends meet. Their children often do worse in school, as stress has an impact on their parents. They are, more often than not, people of color. Women and people of color are also overrepresented among tipped workers and are overwhelmingly low-income. They are all much less likely to have access to paid sick days. In many ways, we have made the choice to leave these workers behind. These bills will go a long way to make their jobs not a source of anxiety, but one of pride.
Good jobs for everyone should not be a point of contention. Connecticut workers need these bills, these standards, right now, this legislative session. We need a workers’ equity agenda.
Sarah Ganong is State Director of CT Working Families Party. Ed Hawthorne is President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, and Janée Woods Weber is Executive Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).