Business Affairs & Labor Committee Chops Fair Workweek Bill

Daniel (left) and Luis Ramirez, co-CEOs of Ramirez Hospitality, spoke out against HB23-1118.
Daniel (left) and Luis Ramirez, co-CEOs of Ramirez Hospitality, spoke out against HB23-1118. Karlee Escobar/Ramirez Hospitality Group
On March 2, the Fair Workweek Bill was chopped by the Business Affairs & Labor Committee following weeks of suspense for restaurant employers and workers.

HB23-1118: Fair Workweek Employment Standards would have required retail, food and beverage establishments, and food and beverage manufacturing companies employing 250 or more workers to provide schedules fourteen days in advance that aligned with workers’ stated preferences. Changes after the fourteen-day threshold would incur “predictability pay” — one extra hour of pay for adding hours to a shift and two extra hours of pay for cutting hours to a shift.

Workers and workers’ right groups rallied in support of the bill, which they said increased predictability and transparency for workers. Retail and restaurant owners called the bill’s requirements incredibly onerous and said it would hamper business growth and development in Colorado.

During a February 16 hearing in front of the Business Affairs & Labor Committee, the eleven members heard over seven hours of testimony from both sides, only for the bill sponsors to ask for the bill to be laid over for action. For weeks, both sides waited in anticipation: Without the approval of the Business Affairs & Labor Committee, the bill could not move to the Appropriations Committee or to the House floor for a vote. Then it was announced that HB23-1118 would come up for a vote on March 2 at 1:30 p.m.

After an hour-and-a-half-long delay, Chairwoman Representative Judy Amabile opened the session and asked the House bill sponsors, Representative Emily Sirota and Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, for any amendments and last comments. Over the past few weeks, many industry groups have been lobbying for exceptions for their workers. “The Worker Caucus asked us to hold strong, to not allow corporate interests to decide which workers deserve and who's not deserving of these protections,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “We just ask that you vote on the bill as is.”

In her opening comments, Gonzales-Guiterrez highlighted personal stories from workers who testified at the February 16 hearing about unpredictable schedules wreaking havoc on their mental health, physical health, social life and personal relationships. She made sure to emphasize that HB23-1118 is simply a small step toward protecting workers, highlighting its potential benefits. “Member cities across the country, some with more people than the entire state of Colorado, have passed this policy. In fact, 2.2 million workers are already covered by Fair Workweek laws. House Bill 1118 would only cover 13.9 percent of the private-sector workforce in Colorado,” she explained. “The proposed bill will produce nearly $130 million in cost savings for covered employers by reducing turnover.”

However, the sponsors’ hopes for the bill were dashed as, one by one, committee members explained their reason for voting no. “This is a bill that I’ve gotten by far the most emails on from constituents, roughly about a hundred a day…and at least 98 of every 100 have been in opposition of it,” said Representative Ryan Armagost.

Representative Lisa Frizell referenced a letter that the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA) had released with more than 640 signatures from food service employees pleading with the committee members to reject the bill. Frizell, reading from the letter, stated “House Bill 1118 penalizes our employers for letting us work when we need and want to, and that's not fair. We also work in restaurants because we like knowing that we can quickly swap a shift with a friend to catch a show at Red Rocks or go skiing, or just to take a day to rest. The past few years have been brutal, and those of us who are still working in the industry are literally here for the flexible hours.”

Representative William Lindstedt struck a compromising tone, saying that he couldn’t vote for the bill until it was amended. “I would love the opportunity to work on something maybe narrower in the future to try to stand up for workers, many of whom have been exploited,” said Lindstedt. “We heard some really terrible stories, but the way this bill is currently written just isn't ready to solve that problem.”

Vice Chair Representative Naquetta Ricks agreed. “It seems like the restaurant industry probably needed a little bit different attention right now because of the fact that we came out of COVID and a lot of people's margins are already stretched,” she explained. “It would've been nice to see maybe an amendment that might have looked into it [in] more detail.”

Representative Rick Taggart pushed back against the sponsors' suggestion that big-money industry lobbyists were unfairly influencing the narrative. “It is not the lobbyists that have influenced me on this. It's the business owners that are very concerned about their employees, and they want the flexibility to do the absolute best they can for their employees,” he stated.

The Chairwoman also voted no, commenting, “When I read this bill, it made me worry that there were unintended consequences of the policies that were being put forward...and I'm really disappointed, because I would like for us to make meaningful change for the people who need it here in our state. And like other people have said, I would like to keep the conversation going and actually come up with policies where we work together.”

The bill did get support from two members of the committee. “One thing that I thought that was really compelling in the closing [panel is that] the federal government defines a large employer as somebody who has fifty employees, and this legislation defined it as 250,” explained Representative Javier Mabrey. “I didn't think it was that hard for restaurants that have that level of capacity to just provide schedules a couple weeks in advance.”

The other yes vote came from Representative Sheila Lieder. “I will always stand with the workers. I know how hard it is to get a doctor's appointment and then to be told on your day off you have to come in,” she said. “I will be a yes, and I urge my colleagues to do the same. because after the hundreds of emails we all received, I believe this legislation should be debated by the full body of the committee of the whole, and not the people you just see on this committee.”

Ultimately, the bill failed to move past the committee by a vote of eight to two (Representative Regina English was not present) and was postponed indefinitely. 

“It’s a great day for Colorado restaurants,” said Daniel Ramirez, co-owner of Los Dos Potrillos. “My family’s business is once again free to grow and continue lifting up our employees, who deeply value the flexible scheduling we offer them. Thanks to the House Committee for their votes against HB1118, which would have destroyed my family’s American dream and the dreams of the 350 Coloradans who work for us.”

Neither Representative Sirota nor Representative Gonzales-Gutierrez responded to a request for comment.
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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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