Advocacy Update #2 from Wesley Moncrief

Welcome again everyone to our second weekly Advocacy Update of 2023. Last week, we looked at HB23-1154 (transparency of the ecological impact of legislation), as well as HB23-1133 (concerning the cost of phone calls for persons in custody). This week, we’re going to shift gears a bit and look at legislation centering on fair employment standards in certain industries.

HB23-1118 is titled “Fair Workweek Employment Standards,” and it will benefit workers. This bill has been fairly contentious, with changes already hinted at after its first hearing on the floor. However, as someone who has worked extensively in these industries, I wanted to speak into why this bill should see greater support.

One critique of the bill is the vague language describing the industries that will be affected, which I believe to be a valid criticism. However, the assumed affected industries are the retail, restaurant, and beverage industries. Another criticism that has surfaced is of workers sharing that the flexibility of these industries is what draws them towards it. Many workers are students, parents, musicians and other individuals who need that flexibility for the other aspects of their lives. The requirement for heavy documentation when shift change occurs does harm the ability for that flexibility to be preserved. This is also quite valid, and I think that a loosening of those requirements could be of great benefit to this bill.

However, having worked in the restaurant industry, I am very drawn to the portions of the bill that look to combat the industry practices of “soft firing.” This is achieved when employers intentionally demoralizing a worker through insufficient number of, or less desirable, hours until they seek alternative employment. The employer then hires temporary workers in order to deny overtime and employment benefits for those who’ve already worked forty hours for the week. Employers could do better, in my opinion, by offering newly available hours first to existing workers rather than to new hires.

Additionally, there is what I believe to be a very good portion of the bill that grants an additional hour of pay for short-term scheduling changes. I do not think that this needs to be a large window, but often times I have been contacted by employers on a day off asking me to cover for a co-worker who had an emergency occur. Even a 24-hours of advance notice could incentivize workers to take those emergency shifts and leave employers less likely to face a sudden labor shortage.

There have been changes already suggested to pare this bill back, and I fear that the effect of that may be to strip away a lot of what makes it valuable. I’ve spent my time in the trenches of service work and it is very often a thankless job. Here’s an article that dives into a little more of the detail and critiques of the bill that I encourage you read.

I very much believe that this bill has the potential to be shaped into a piece that will improve financial equity, which is a key steppingstone for political equity. Because work is already being done to scale this back, I would implore you to have conversations with friends or family who may have experience in the industry and call your legislators to make sure that the workers and their desires are being centered during this conversation.

Wesley Moncrief
CCC Social Justice Fellow