A Long Day of Hearings for Labor Bills, Guaranteed Sick Leave, Work Schedules


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HARTFORD – Bills aimed at guaranteeing workers a predictable work schedule and mandating sick leave for more workers drew praise from labor advocates, but questions from employers who said the bills will disadvantage small franchisees by lumping them together with larger employers.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee heard a long slate of bills on the Democratic agenda during a hearing at the Capitol on Thursday, including a bill that would require employers to provide workers with a schedule two weeks in advance, and another that would expand the state’s sick leave requirement to more private employers and double workers’ sick leave.

Workers and their advocates told lawmakers during a long day of hearings on Thursday that inconsistent hours and schedules and a lack of sick leave make it difficult to take care of their families, while business owners and advocates warned that they couldn’t sustain additional mandates in the current economy.

Workers ask for stability, employers for flexibility

Rosa Franco, who said she’s worked at an I-95 service plaza McDonalds for 14 years, told lawmakers in written testimony that scheduling has been unpredictable since COVID – subjecting Franco and her coworkers to regular shift changes and cuts to working hours.

“[The changes] make it difficult to pay our bills, coordinate childcare and take care of other responsibilities we have as working parents,” Franco told lawmakers. 

Daniel Schneider, a professor of social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, told lawmakers that very few service industry workers have regular schedules, and retail and food service workers receive little advanced notice on their schedules.

Citing data from more than 1,000 Connecticut workers as part of a study he co-authored, Schneider said about two-thirds of service workers reported irregular routines, like variable schedules which change day to day, or week to week. 

Bu representatives of the hospitality and restaurant industries told lawmakers that shifting schedules are a fact of life in their industries. Scott Dolch, president of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said reservations or events changing last-minute, workers calling out sick and weather are just a few of the many reasons restaurants would need to change workers’ schedules with little notice.

Jennifer Smyth, HR manager for Waterford Hotel Group, told lawmakers in written testimony that the hotel industry depends on flexibility, and this would take that flexibility away, while also adding additional costs to hotels still recovering from COVID.

“[Flexibility] is why many employees choose to enter the hospitality industry,” Smyth said. “Without allowing for some measure of flexibility, hotels would not be able to adjust to the needs of its guests, events, or its own employees that ask for flexibility.”

Schneider said about 16 percent of retail and food service workers received less than 72 hours notice on their weekly schedules, and workers said schedules are often changed last minute even when they have advance notice, Schneider said. And 80 percent of workers said they have very little input over their schedule.

“While schedule flexibility can be really valuable for workers and their families, that’s simply not the phenomenon we’re talking about today,” Schneider said. “Instead, what we see are workers who are involuntarily exposed to schedule instability and unpredictability.”

Rules for franchises

The bill would impose scheduling requirements on retail, food service, hospitality and long-term health care businesses with more than 500 employees, leaving flexibility for businesses with smaller staffs. 

But it would also require franchisees of brands that have more than 500 employees collectively to follow the scheduling rules – sparking a debate regarding whether individual franchises with small staffs, but the benefits of being part of a major brand, should be treated like major companies or small businesses.

Sarah Bratko, counsel for the American Lodging Association, said it was unfair for the bill to place requirements on a small franchise hotel with 50 employees, but not a business with 499 employees. That puts franchisees, who she said own about half of hotels, at a disadvantage with non-franchises, especially when competing with other states for events and conventions.

“It’s easy to assume when you walk into a branded hotel that the hotel is owned and operated by the brand itself,” Bratko said. “However, the vast majority of these hotels are franchisees that are owned and operated by small local businesses that have no control over the hiring practices of a franchisor.”

But Joan Moriarty, representing Change to Win, a national federation of labor unions, said franchises are fundamentally different than small businesses, and their association with established, national brands give them advantages that independent small businesses don’t have – including brand recognition, established supply chains, models for hiring and training workers, and sophisticated scheduling software.

“Scheduling software is near-ubiquitous among chain fast-food,” Moriarty said. “The cutting-edge systems are really powerful tools that integrate data from restaurants’ historical sales records, staff roster, the weather, and other factors to generate a real-time schedule.”

State Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, said that while franchises do have those advantages, they still have small staffs that make it harder to adjust when workers call in sick or don’t show up to work.

“A 500-person company, they can handle it, they can,” Ackert said. “But a person that has two Subway shops [could not].”

Paid sick leave for all

Since 2012, Connecticut has required all businesses with more than 50 employees to provide paid sick leave to “service workers” – a category that Gov. Ned Lamont’s office has said  applies to about 10 percent of workers in the state in about 60 qualifying jobs according to state law.

Democrats on the Labor Committee are pushing a bill that would expand the right to paid sick leave to all employees of all private companies – except those that have union-negotiated health plans involving other employers. 

The bill would also double the amount of sick leave workers can accrue in a year from 40 to 80 hours, and allow workers to use sick leave to tend to sick relatives other than just a child or spouse.

Beatriz Moncada, a domestic worker from Norwalk, told lawmakers that it’s time for her and her coworkers to be included in employment protections they’ve been excluded from, like access to sick leave.

“I clean houses. When I’m sick, I have to go to work like this, because I can’t afford to miss work,” Moncada, speaking Spanish, said through an interpreter.

Cliff O’Callahan, a pediatrician in Middletown, said he sees parents who have to delay bringing a child to a doctor because they can’t take off work. Delayed care can make the situation worse, and it makes “economic, medical and ethical sense” to support families with paid sick leave, he told lawmakers.

“I immediately think of the single mother with multiple children who is working and can not bring her daughter in for another bout of wheezing that results that evening in an emergency room visit followed by hospital admission, again,” O’Callahan wrote to lawmakers. “This is traumatic for the child and parent and expensive for our medical system.”

While workers and their advocates argued that sick leave is a basic protection, several businesses testified that it would be another costly burden to them at a time when they’re managing rising costs and workforce shortages.

Rex Florian, president of Southington manufacturer Tiger Enterprises, which employs 35 people, said absent employees are costly to small and medium sized businesses. He said the threat of penalties is another burden on businesses, while the system is ripe for abuse without a system to determine if workers’ are taking paid leave for valid reasons.

“[Paid sick leave], in reality, is an insurance program and should be treated as such,” Florian wrote to lawmakers. “Both the employee and employer would share in the cost and the marketplace would determine the success of the product.”