Colorado Dems push bill to provide predictable schedules to workers

Abby Vestecka worked at a Safeway in Denver for 18 months, stocking shelves, covering the cosmetics and dairy departments, and filling morning and night shifts that sometimes came in rapid succession. The schedule for the coming week would regularly be posted on Friday mornings, two days before the new work week was set to begin.

When Vestecka, who uses they/them pronouns, was recovering from back surgery, they regularly missed physical therapy and had to rush to other medical appointments because of their schedule. Eventually, Vestecka quit Safeway, which did not return a request for comment Wednesday. In March 2022, they went to work at a marijuana dispensary. But the scheduling issues followed them from one service industry job to the next.

“It just became, ‘We need you here,’” said Vestecka, who was connected with the Denver Post through supporters of a push to regulate scheduling. “And it’s never really been posed to me in a sense of, ‘You have the right to decline this.’ It’s always sort of been in my experience that ‘This is what we need (from) you, or I don’t know that we’ll be able to have this job work out for you much longer. We need you to drop everything for the good of the business, and we don’t really care how it impacts your life.’”

Some Colorado lawmakers are hoping to give more predictability to workers’ lives and make the state one of only two that require large employers to provide advanced scheduling. A bill to create what supporters call a fair workweek is still being drafted by legislators including Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, and has yet to be introduced in the House. But its planned provisions would require some employers to post work schedules two weeks in advance, give workers at least 12 hours between shifts, and require “predictability” pay be given to workers whose hours are abruptly changed.

Most of the bill would apply only to employers with 250 or more employees and who operate in the retail and food and beverage industries, Sirota said. That’s a “global” count, she said: If a retailer has 20 employees in Colorado and 300 elsewhere in the country, they would still be covered.

One planned provision — to give employees the right to request changes to their schedule without fear of retaliation — would apply to private sector employers more broadly. Employers be required to those requests, Sirota said, but they also couldn’t punish employees for asking. There would also be exclusions to the predictability pay for some circumstances and flexibility for workers who want to work newly regulated shifts.

The bill would provide predictive scheduling for as many as 350,000 workers in Colorado, Sirota said. It would be enforced by the state’s Department of Labor and Employment, and violation penalties could include back pay and a $10,000 fine.

“What we have found in these sectors — and this is across the country, not just in Colorado — folks have a hard time, that scheduling unpredictability rampant in these sectors causes challenges around income volatility,” Sirota said, “and challenges in workers’ ability to really live their lives and do things like establish childcare; to do things like visit the doctor; to really know how much income they can anticipate in the coming weeks and months.”

Employer and business groups are still weighing the proposal and studying its legal implications, said Loren Furman, the president and CEO of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. But she and others said business groups, like the Colorado Retail Council, already have concerns.

Furman questioned how employers would be able to respond to workers who don’t show up to shifts, prompting businesses to scramble to adjust schedules at the last minute. She said employers are still trying to determine how franchises would be impacted, and she argued that decisions about scheduling should be kept at the local level.

The bill would also require that covered employers first offer open shifts to current staff, before they hire on more workers. That’s in part to incentivize regular, full-time work and boost incomes. Nina DiSalvo, the policy director of the nonprofit law firm Towards Justice, said the bill would require only that jobs be posted internally for four days, which she argued wouldn’t be burdensome. But Furman said it would still complicate and slow the hiring process.

Sonia Riggs, the head of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said the measure “demonstrates a dire misunderstanding of the way the restaurant industry operates.” She said a one-size-fits-all approach — lumping restaurants in with retailers — misses the nuances between the industries.

“Restaurants provide flexible hours, fair pay, and fun work,” Riggs said in a statement. ” … Creating unnecessary, rigid mandates that dictate how employers interact with their employees on scheduling will harm employees, harm Colorado small businesses, and harm consumers.”

The bill has the support of the local United Food and Commercial Workers union, as well as groups like 9to5 Colorado and Towards Justice. DiSalvo, the policy director for the latter group, said the bill was a win-win for workers and employers because it would improve retention, predictability and employee health. The predictability pay — equivalent to the worker’s hourly rate, Sirota said — is in part an effort to compensate employees who have to navigate rapid transportation and care arrangements, supporters said.

If the legislation passes here, Colorado would join Oregon as the only states with this breadth of policy. Colorado’s would cover more employers — those with at least 250 workers, compared to Oregon’s 500 — but does not include hospitality workers, as Oregon’s does. Several cities — including New York, San Jose and San Francisco — have also implemented some form of predictive scheduling requirements, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Supporters described the policy as seeking to help workers plan for child care, protect their own health and wellness, boost retention and prevent burnout. If a worker is called in at the last minute or has a shift abruptly changed, that impacts arrangements they’ve already made or will need to quickly set up.

“Every worker should know ahead of time what their monthly income will be and be able to make dependent care arrangements so they can work,” Kim Cordova, the president of the local food and commercial workers union, said in a statement. “UFCW Local 7 supports the Fair Workweek legislation because fluctuating weekly income and an inability to schedule important aspects of our lives, like childcare and doctor’s appointments, is unacceptable.”

There’s research showing the extent of the disruption described by Vestecka, the former Safeway worker who has ties to UFCW. Last year, the Shift Project — a joint effort by Harvard University and the University of California San Francisco — surveyed more than 2,100 service workers in Colorado. Researchers found that 45% of respondents had worked consecutive closing and opening shifts over the previous month and that 66% had a “last minute” schedule change during that same period. More than a third reported receiving less than a week’s notice of their work schedule; nearly half of that group said they received two days’ notice at most.

“These measures show that many Colorado service sector workers experience unstable and unpredictable work schedules,” the report’s authors, Harvard’s Daniel Schneider and UCSF’s Kristen Harknett, wrote. “We also find that these workers often do not have control over their schedules. Nearly half of workers have no input when it comes to setting their work schedules, another 30% have some input, and only 16% of workers have a large degree of control over their scheduled work days and times.”

For Vestecka, the bill is about providing balance between workers and business.

“Just as we are providing for the needs of the customers that come into our work every day,” they said, “we have needs as well.”

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