Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Allison Jones (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—A coalition of legislators, activists and workers Tuesday called for the passage of a bill that would eliminate the practice of on-call scheduling for Connecticut’s big box retail, food service, hospitality, and nursing home workers.

The bill, SB 321, is up for hearing Tuesday in front of the Children’s Committee.

Advocates of the legislation claim that throughout Connecticut, hundreds of thousands of low-wage hourly workers, many living at or below the poverty line, struggle to earn a stable income because of unpredictable work schedules. Employees who are proponents of the bill say they are often forced to work with little notice, maintain open availability for “on-call” shifts without any guarantee of work, and have shifts cancelled at the last minute.

While Democratic legislators gave powerful statements about the need for the law, the most compelling arguments were made by those struggling with low wages.

One of those was Allison Jones, of Bristol, who said she previously worked in a nursing home for more than two decades.

“I would show up for work and be told that I wasn’t needed and that I should go back home, that my work was canceled,” Jones said. “The problem was that I was a divorced mom with three children. I couldn’t cancel the babysitter, or the rent, or the light bill.”

Championing the bill this year is Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Trumbull, co-chair of the Children’s Committee.

Moore, at the press conference, re-told her story of the summer of 2015 working as a seasonal, minimum-wage employee at a big-box store because she said she wanted to be able to relate to many of her constituents.

“I was working around a lot of people who had to have this job,” Moore said. “I didn’t. I wasn’t dependent on the hours but others were. I would never get more than four, six hours a day. When I asked about working 40 hours a week, I was always told, ‘Maybe next week’,”

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said the bill was really about families.

“The way we’re headed is that people are having to work two and three jobs,” Porter said, adding that’s what she had to do when her children were young.

“My son had to raise my daughter,” Porter said. “It wasn’t his job to raise his sister.”

Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said, “One third of the workforce in the country is working under these conditions. There is no middle class anymore — just millionaires and the working poor.”

It wasn’t just the legislators who are pushing for the legislation.

“Driven exclusively by profits, these employers pay low wages, offer few, if any, benefits and provide no predictability in work hours,” Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Lori Pelletier, president of AFL-CIO (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

“Thousands of Connecticut workers, many earning just minimum wage, or less if they are a tipped worker, struggle to earn a stable income because of their unpredictable work schedules,” Pelletier said. “Employers in many low-wage sectors often exploit employees, forcing them to work with little notice or to maintain availability for “on-call” shifts without the guarantee of actual work.”

Pelletier added: “These employers also commonly cancel shifts with little or no notice or send workers home early without pay when business is slow. The result is significant uncertainty and lost pay for workers and their families.”

Carlos Moreno, state director of the Connecticut Working Families Organization, added the people being punished without this legislation “are women and people of color.”

Many in business, however, are opposed to the proposed legislation.

In written testimony submitted in advance of the public hearing, Eric Gjede, counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), which represents thousands of large and small companies throughout the state of Connecticut, said CBIA is opposed.

“In the clear majority of employment circumstances, employers are able to provide employees with their schedules well in advance,” Gjede said. “However, on-call employment positions are critical component of certain industries that are unable to determine their labor needs in advance.”

He said businesses need predictability.

“Employers may not have the resources, equipment, or materials needed for segments of their workforce to work on a particular day,” Gjede added. “Further, it makes employers unable to adjust for unexpected employee absences. Without on-call scheduling, daycare centers, for example, may be unable to meet their state-mandated student-to-teacher ratio if an emergency arises for a parent or teacher,” Gjede said.

Mandating that employers in certain industries commit to the size of their workforce in advance will also mandate the employer take a financial loss during periods of time in which their business is slower or busier than expected, Gjede said in his submitted testimony.

Gjede claimed that workers also are impacted by scheduling restrictions. “Studies done in municipalities that have scheduling restrictions, like San Francisco, showed that employers respond to these laws by hiring fewer part-time workers and by scheduling less employees per shift,” Gjede said.

The committee also received written testimony from both the Connecticut Hospital Association and Connecticut’s Judicial Branch asking the committee, if it passes the legislation, to exempt both of them due to the inherent unpredictably of their work environments.