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CT ‘Fair Work Week’ legislation stalls in committee

A Dunkin' Donuts sits near the town green in downtown East Haven.
A Dunkin' Donuts sits near the town green in downtown East Haven.

A bill aimed at bringing more stability to hourly workers’ schedules stalled in the General Assembly’s judiciary committee Monday after franchise business owners pushed back.

House Bill 5353, which would have required businesses to partially compensate workers for canceling shifts with less than a week’s notice, would have exempted companies with fewer than 500 employees globally. Franchisees — who own and operate local operations of global brands like Dunkin’ and Subway — weren’t included in that carveout.

That’s ultimately what stalled this year’s push to pass the so-called “Fair Work Week” legislation. The bill was on the judiciary committee’s agenda Monday but didn’t receive a vote.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s dead, but it means that if we don’t meet again it’s dead,” said Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, a member of the judiciary committee and co-chair of the labor and public employees committee, where the bill originated.

A Fair Work Week bill passed the Senate last year but wasn’t voted on in the House.

“We made tremendous compromises last year when we were trying to get this done,” Porter said, adding that she felt the bill was in a “better position” to succeed this year. “Unfortunately, and to our surprise, that has not been the case,” Porter said.

The bill appeared to have momentum earlier in the 2022 session. Advocates and lawmakers had reached a compromise that would have allowed businesses with up to 500 staff — the vast majority of businesses in the state — to retain the flexibility they said they needed.

But franchise owners said the bill unfairly left them out.

“We have the same costs as any other small business,” said Michael Batista, president of the Connecticut Franchisee Association. “To say a franchisee is any different than any other restaurant owner or any other small business owner is wrong. It’s unfair to be targeted in that way.”

Roger Senserrich of the Connecticut Working Families party said he was in favor of applying the mandates to franchisees because, as part of a larger corporation, they have access to automated scheduling software, hiring tools and payroll that allows them to engage in the practices that the bill aims to regulate.

“The worst offenders, regarding bad scheduling practices, tend to be the large corporations,” he said.

But Batista, who owns several Dunkin’ locations in central Connecticut, said his stores have never had access to that kind of scheduling program.

“Some big box stores may use software like that,” he said. “A small restaurant owner would not have access to that.”

Batista said it’s “common sense” to give workers notice before changing or canceling a shift. At his stores, schedules are usually arranged 10 days ahead. “It would be unwise for any small business owner to not give some level of notice to an employee so they can make accommodations,” he said. “But in my experience, sometimes too far in advance isn’t all that great either — some of our employees don’t know what’s going on two weeks in advance.”

Porter, who grew up in a family with several small business owners, said “franchises aren’t your typical small business,” adding that she believes the legislation should not make an exception for them. Many franchisees follow policies and personnel practices of their corporate brand to the letter, and some of those policies intentionally limit staff hours, she said. For the workers, she said, “It’s not just a matter of a predictable schedule, it’s also a matter of predictable pay.”

Driving home from the Capitol on Monday, Porter said the fate of H.B. 5353 “weighs heavy on my heart” because she wanted to do more for the tens of thousands of hourly workers the state relied on during the pandemic.

"I’m really disappointed that it stalled and that we haven’t responded to the clarion call of our workers,” she said.

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