Takeaways From Seven-Hour Hearing on Fair Workweek Bill

A packed room for the committee hearing.
A packed room for the committee hearing. Helen Xu
If House Bill 23-1118, the Fair Workweek Employment Standards proposal, passes, it could fundamentally change how retail and restaurant outfits do business in Colorado.

The bill, which was introduced on January 24, proposes to provide shift workers more predictability — and penalizes their employers for not providing that. Among many legal requirements, HB23-1118 requires shift workers to receive their schedule at least fourteen days in advance, charges "predictability pay" to the employer for changes after the fourteen-day threshold, and requires clear record-keeping for shift requests and shift changes. Colorado would join Oregon as the second state with a predictability scheduling law that applies to retail, food and beverage establishments, as well as food and beverage manufacturing companies that employ 250 or more workers.

But before the bill could even make it to the floor of the Colorado House, it had to first pass the Business Affairs & Labor committee hearing on February 16. Here's a recap of what happened:
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The committee preparing for a long night of testifying.
Helen Xu
A Packed Room

The main purpose of the hearing was to provide the committee's eleven members an opportunity to hear from the public and ask questions. Because 140 people signed up to speak, the hearing was moved to the Old State Library from its scheduled room; even with the larger accommodations, every seat was taken, with more than 200 people in attendance. Chairwoman Judy Amabile called four speakers at a time, alternating between supporters and opponents; each person was provided two minutes for a statement, and then the committee had ten minutes for questions from the four. Even with time limits, testimony stretched over seven hours; the hearing finally concluded at 10 p.m.

Workers’ Rights

The discussion pitted workers' rights against business interests. Ninety-five percent of the testimony in support came from workers or workers’ rights groups (including Towards Justice, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, UFCW, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Colorado Jobs with Justice, etc.). Ninety-five percent of the opposition testimony came from business owners or business groups (including the Colorado Restaurant Association, Hispanic Restaurant Association, Colorado Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Competitive Council, Colorado Retail Council, etc.).

Emotional testimony from supporters described how unpredictable schedules threw their lives into chaos, leaving them to constantly scramble and stress about making child pickups and drop-offs, medically necessary doctor's appointments, and important social events such as birthdays, anniversaries and even weddings. Many cited studies showing that unpredictable schedules and their negative effects fell disproportionately on women and people of color, framing this bill as a small step toward fixing systematic racism.

Jaquikeyah Fields, communications director for Colorado People’s Alliance, worked at Jack in the Box as a high school student to help support herself and her family. “I repeatedly asked for a schedule to allow me to be a normal school student, but it didn’t happen,” she said. Starbucks baristas and supervisors described an environment of retaliation, with managers arbitrarily cutting hours and putting many workers at risk of falling below the required seventeen-to-twenty-hours-per-week average threshold to qualify for health and tuition benefits. Notable among the Starbucks speakers was Len Harris, who led the successful campaign for the first unionized Starbucks in Colorado and is now involved in an unlawful termination suit against her former employer.

UFCW member Richard Garcia described how workers' hours were driven by “moving goalposts” at the meatpacking and processing plant where he works. “The company wouldn’t let us go home unless a set [amount] of meat was processed, and that number changed every week,” he said. Both he and fellow UFCW member Haven Rohnert emphasized how unpredictable hours, fear of retaliation and back-to-back shifts took a toll on physical and mental health. Exhausted workers had a much higher risk of injuring themselves and their co-workers, especially when they were in butchering and meat-processing roles, they said.

Increased Cost of Doing Business

Opponents of the bill described how, if passed, the proposal would increase the cost of operations in Colorado — stifling growth, scaring off businesses and, especially for restaurants, hitting them when they’re still down and recovering from the pandemic. An assessment of the business climate showed that the “top concern is the growing cost of doing business in Colorado which we’re currently 36th in the nation,” explained Meghan Dollar, senior vice president of Governmental Affairs and Political Operations for the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. “Bills like 1118 will ensure that Colorado falls even further.” The Colorado Restaurant Association presented the findings of an internal survey of 200 restaurants that would be impacted by this bill, which determined that 99 percent would limit future expansion, 98 percent would understaff, 92 percent would cut employee hours, and 97 percent would raise their prices.

Sonia Riggs, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said the CRA estimated that the “cost to comply is at $70,000 per year per location,” which many restaurateurs testified would be a business killer. Chris Brown, vice president of Policy & Research at the Common Sense Institute, predicted that the costs would run between $2,200 and $5,800 per shift employee per year for covered businesses with 200 shift workers. The CSI analyzed the impact of similar scheduling laws in Oregon, Seattle and Philadelphia to come up with its analysis. “Evidence from similar laws demonstrate consequences for employees, including less freedom and autonomy to make desired schedule changes, fewer available shifts, fewer available jobs and increased likelihood of part-time work,” the report determined.

Business owner after business owner came up to the podium to plead with legislators to “vote no on the most restrictive scheduling law in the country,” arguing that their decades of expertise as both employee and employer gave them unique insight into what workers wanted.

Star-Studded Testimony

Both sides had notable names testifying. Dana Rodriguez, the chef behind several restaurant concepts including Super Mega Bien, Cantina Loca and Work & Class (she's also executive chef for the new Casa Bonita), explained to the committee that with 800 workers, she would have to hire an additional person to handle the record-keeping and paperwork requirements. Ean Thomas Tafoya, a candidate for Denver mayor, took a break from his campaigning to speak for workers, countering a restaurant owner who'd commented, “It’s been a good few years for workers.” Said Tafoya: “Good! It should be good for workers. This is the year of justice, not excuses.”

SHIFT in Focus

The Harvard SHIFT research project was repeatedly mentioned by both supporters and detractors. The study, released by the Kennedy School Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy in February 2022, surveyed 2,144 shift workers in Colorado “in order to capture working conditions in Colorado’s service sector.” Key findings: Seventy-one percent of workers want predictability, 67 percent have to keep their schedule open and therefore are unable to take second jobs, 66 percent have had last-minute changes, and 60 percent receive less than two weeks’ notice of their work schedules. However, several people called the methodology in question, from the number of participants surveyed to data collection methods using online Facebook advertisements. “Is that even scientific?” asked one committee member.

See You Again

If anything, the seven hours of testimony revealed plenty of confusion over the bill. Multiple times, people debated where the proposal allows, prohibits, incentivize or disincentivizes shift-swapping, a common best practice in retail and hospitality industries today. There was much back-and-forth on the burdens of record-keeping — for example, the bill would allow text messages as “records,” but they must be retained for three years by the employer. The presumption of bad action by businesses encoded into the bill had many people fired up, and no one seemed to be able to accurately frame for Representative Javier Mabrey the tradeoffs this bill makes in terms of predictability versus flexibility.

So it was no surprise that after many hours of testimony, Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez requested that the bill be laid over to allow sponsors to work with stakeholders on amendments. The next time it is brought before the committee, it will be for a public comments allowed.
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Helen Xu is a freelance writer living in Littleton with her beloved senior Russian Blue cat who answers to Thomas or "handsome sir." Her favorite stories to write are either about food and dining, where there's an unexpected, surprising twist in what may initially seem mundane and boring, or being able to fold in data-driven quantitative analysis.

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