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About a Fair Work Week — Listening to Workers

These past few days we have been talking non-stop with policymakers about the need for stable schedules at the workplace.

We have been sharing research on the impact that erratic schedules have on workers and families, from food insecurity to stress. We told legislators about how incredibly frustrating and scary it is for someone not to know how much money they will make any given week. We have shown extensive, in-depth research on this issue, on how positive the impact of fair schedules and Fair Workweek legislation is both on workers and their employees. We even have polling data that makes clear that three-fourths of workers want more stability and predictability in their work schedules.

Yet, over and over again, we run into legislators telling us that they are worried about the Fair Workweek bill. They tell us that they talked with some franchise owners in their district about how they don´t like the bill, and how they are not hearing anything from workers.

Let me tell you a story, then, about a worker that came forward to speak in support of the bill. On April 12, we hosted a press conference at the Capitol in support of the Fair Workweek bill. Legislators, and legislative leaders spoke in favor of the bill. There were also three workers, ready to share their stories. The first one, Cristher Estrada, used to work at Macy’s, and talked about her experience there. The second one, Charlie, works at Amazon but could not come due to a last-minute shift change, so we read his testimony. He asked us not to use his full name.

The third one was Elva Salazar, a cashier at a Dunkin’ franchise on the I-95 service plazas in Fairfield County. Elva spoke forcefully about the impact of unstable schedules. She talked about how they routinely have shifts canceled the moment she gets to work, with no pay or compensation, or gets called with little or no notice, having to scramble to get to work.

A few days later, when she went back to work, Elva was fired.

 If legislators were wondering why workers are not calling in and speaking up about fair scheduling to them, well, this might be the answer.

Politicians tend to pay more attention to those that complain. Business owners tend to speak louder, because they have the time and resources to do so. Workers, however, are often hard pressed to find time to follow legislation, let alone lobby their elected representatives. When they do, however, they know they can get in trouble, so they often stay on the sidelines. Policymakers that only pay attention to the noise from a few concerned franchise owners, run the risk of ignoring their base, yet this is exactly what they intend to do this legislative session.

The Fair Workweek bill would be an immense help to more than a quarter million of workers in Connecticut, their children, and their families. These are working people, the vast majority of them women and people of color. This is the vaunted blue-collar, non-college educated working class that Democrats claim to represent, This is also the base that has been slipping away from the party, bit by bit, in recent elections. Democrats, however, seem to be yet again afraid of a few squeaky wheels in their never-ending quest of appeasing those that will not vote for them anyway instead of helping the people that put them in office in the first place.

The Fair Workweek bill is not an anti-business bill. Among the piles of research we have been sharing with legislators, there is plenty of evidence that predictable schedules for workers help businesses. Similar bills have passed in enough places and enough companies have tested fair scheduling to say, with little doubt, that this is the case. Democrats, however, seem to have deluded themselves into believing that pleasing a few franchise owners that are telling them actively mistreating workers makes business sense is for some unfathomable reason a bigger political winner than helping a quarter million voters get some respect at their jobs.

Which gets me back to Elva Salazar, and the hundreds of thousands of workers like her across the state. She raised her voice to call legislators to pass Fair Workweek. Elva lost her job. Come November, Democrats are going to ask voters like her to go to the polls, telling them they are the party of the little people fighting against racism and big business. Yet when they had a chance to pass a bill that would have helped her, they sided with the company that fired her, not the workers.

And they will wonder, again, why they keep losing their support.

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