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Chenae Russell of East Hartford (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT – (Updated 3 p.m.) There are more than 350,000 low-wage hourly workers in Connecticut and the leaders of the Labor and Public Employees Committee want them to have a predictable and stable work schedule.

“Our responsibility as a state is in allowing that level of flexibility of part-time work that we also have to guarantee that the workers are protected and they cannot be abused,” Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said.

Chenae Russell of East Hartford said she worked part-time at a retail store and part-time shifts left her feeling “hopeless and unable to plan ahead.”

“I felt like a commodity at the hands of an employer who did not see or care about me as a person,” Russell added.

She said unpredictable schedules are especially hard on single mothers who struggle to find childcare.

But the business community opposes any legislation that would require them to schedule their staff 14 days in advance of a shift.

Under the Senate Bill 227, an employee will provide a written estimate of the hours he or she would like to work. An employer shall provide workers with an estimate of the hours they are expected to work. The language in the bill clearly states that this is “nonbinding” on the employer.

Also an employer first has to offer new hours that become available to existing employees. If employees say no thanks, that employer is free to hire whenever they want without a penalty.

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said the purpose of requiring employers to offer hours to the part-time workers they have is the fact that many part-time workers have to work other jobs. If workers could get enough hours then they might not have to have two or three jobs, she added.

“Employers may not have the resources, equipment or materials needed for segments of their workforce to work on a particular day,” Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said in written testimony. “Further, it makes employers unable to adjust for unexpected employee absences.”

Gjede said the bill “asks Connecticut’s employers to ignore the demands of customers, cancel undesirable shifts at less preferred locations, retain underperforming employees rather than hire additional workers that possess necessary skills, all while being subject to a number of significant new legal penalties.”

The bill would give retail, food service, and hospitality workers greater control over their work schedules.

The Connecticut Restaurant Association also is opposed to the legislation.

“The restaurant industry is known for its flexibility; flexibility for employers and employees alike,” Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said in written testimony. “Many employees specifically seek work in the restaurant industry for the flexibility it allows. This proposed legislation would eliminate that flexibility and mandate a new system that would hurt both the employers and employees.”

Another priority for leadership of the Labor and Public Employees Committee this year is a bill that would allow independent ride-hail drivers who work for companies like Uber and Lyft to receive a certain amount of money from each ride.

The bill would require the companies to pay drivers no less than 75% of the money collected from each rider for each prearranged ride completed, and disallow the companies from keeping more than 25% of the total money collected by any driver on any day.

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Independent Drivers Guild (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

But the Independent Drivers Guild wants the legislation to go further.

They want the right to organize a union.

Brendan Sexton, executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, said, “If Connecticut passes a right to bargain law, we will be blazing a trail for growing our unionized workforce in Connecticut.”

Last May, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Uber drivers are not eligible under the National Labor Relations Act.

“This means ride-hail drivers cannot organize in a union under federal law,” Sexton said. “The ruling left open the possibility for states to fill in the void with these workers.”

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is opposed to the legislation.

“Transportation network companies use driver incentives and dynamic pricing systems to ensure the reliability and safety for customers while ensuring drivers are appropriately compensated for both the distance and time traveled,” Gjede said. “This system ensures passengers have a clear understanding of the cost of the service while drivers understand the compensation they will receive for providing the service.”

Gjede said there’s no need for the legislation.

However, drivers say they are making less money now than they did before 2018.

Rosana Olan, a driver for both Uber and Lyft, said both companies “take higher and higher cuts.”

A spokesperson for Lyft said that “90% of those who earn on the Lyft platform drive less than 20 hours a week and use driving as a way to supplement their income. These are parents who have busy schedules, retirees, students, or individuals who have another full-time job. Our goal has always been to empower these individuals to get the most out of the platform, and we look forward to continuing to do so in Connecticut.”

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Kara Dewaine talks about the loss of her father (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

The committee is also looking to pass legislation to expand workers’ compensation benefits for certain mental health conditions to Correction Department staff, emergency medical technicians and dispatchers.

It’s the number one priority of Sen. Cathy Osten, a former correction officer.

Kara Dewaine, who lost her father Jeremy a year ago to a suicide, said her father, a correction officer at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, performed his job with great dignity.

But “he was forced to live a double-life in order to protect his family from the horrors that he saw firsthand at work,” Dewaine said.

Last year, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill into law that provides workers’ compensation benefits to police officers, parole officers, and firefighters who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing an unnerving event in the line of duty.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said the bill expanding coverage breaks a bipartisan promise last year not to expand the legislation.

CCM said it’s open to discussing the proposal, but at the moment it doesn’t support the legislation

“The PTSD law is only in its infancy,” CCM said in a statement. “In addition, some provisions have not yet been enacted.  A greater amount of time and consideration regarding the laws impact and training implementation needs to take place and reviewed.  It is important that we examine the experience and impacts that PA 19-17 has on the workers’ compensation system and municipalities before proceeding with additional occupation classifications.”