Business can out-lobby us. But on International Women’s Day we’re reminded of our resilience.
We are ready to fight again for a fair workweek
Colorado lawmakers hear testimony on the proposed “Fair Workweek” bill at the Colorado Capitol. (Courtesy of Kayla Frawley)
Every International Women’s Day, March 8, I get the opportunity to think of progress for women in Colorado and our resilience around the world. I think about the good trouble left to do, and try not to get overwhelmed with the weight of the work while also celebrating the joy in the last year. Every year there are milestones and there are reflections on where we still have work to do.
This International Women’s Day, I am reminded that just last week business lobbyists outnumbered working people who asked legislators for predictable schedules. The people who work the jobs that are most at risk of unpredictable work schedules are women — predominantly, women of color. House Bill 23-1118, for a “Fair Workweek,” was voted down Thursday after a multi-year coalition convened with shift workers in Colorado.
Every year, there is a particular disappointment, a reminder of how gender pay gap hasn’t changed in decades, or the irony that we are currently fighting to update Equal Pay for Equal Work in Colorado. But, this year, in regards to measuring the progress we have yet to do for working women on the margins — not passing the Fair Workweek bill in the Colorado Legislature absolutely makes the cut.
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Women of color make up the majority of shift workers, and the median income of a shift worker is $13 an hour in Colorado according to a Harvard “Shift” report. Another compelling fact that legislators weren’t swayed by in their 8-2 vote: An astonishing 71% of workers in Colorado want a predictable work schedule. Restaurant businesses wanted to be amended out of the bill, but it is no coincidence that the retail and food service sector has been the focus of worker protection efforts, and is where unstable schedule concerns largely stem from.
Through incredible work with a strong coalition, our phenomenal champion sponsors, Reps. Emily Sirota and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, didn’t falter when workers said no to the amendments that would have cut out the majority of the 450,000 Coloradans this bill would have benefited.
Shift workers watched two votes in solidarity last week with newly elected Rep. Javier Mabrey and longtime union- and labor-strong Rep. Sheila Lieder.
We prepared for the hearing knowing that we would see tons of panels of business owners outnumber workers. In the oppositional testimony we heard, only 2.5% of those testimonials actually would have been impacted by the bill. All those testifying in support of a fair workweek were workers or people who were once shift workers and provided legislators with real, lived expertise on the working conditions in their districts. Oppositional testimony included many businesses that would not be impacted, since the limit of small business in the bill was 250 employees. Federally, that definition is actually much smaller, at 50 employees.
In the last four years of my work at the Colorado state Capitol, I have worked on building bridges and handrails to make civic engagement possible to amplify working-class leadership in policy development. Working people need avenues to change policy in a way that dignifies our experience and the experience of interacting with a system that continues to re-traumatize us. I have been met throughout the last four years with the barriers and obstacles of engaging genuine community members in policies that impact our lives. Unpredictable work schedules keep our communities from engaging civically, coming to the Capitol to testify, and fighting for our rights to be expanded in the workplace.
When I testified on fair workweek, I knew it would bring up a lot for me. Having spent that first year of my son’s life serving tables and working multiple jobs, I remember knowing I could have had more opportunity to advance in ways my son needed me to if I had predictability and the chance at a fair workweek. I remember not having any control over saying no to more work, having to go in to keep my job, often at the last minute, and the hyper-vigilance that became a constant stress of survival mode.
I remember the hopelessness, knowing that in order to get a job I often had to lie about availability, because I didn’t have dependable, affordable child care to put my son in. In order to afford child care I had to work more, and spend less time with him. Knowing that you don’t have any control to change your working environment or even understand what policies need to change and how to advocate for that change is the epitome of the working class struggle and amplifies the level of privilege one needs to engage in the policy process.
To no surprise, in the last four years of trying to get working parents pathways into policy change at the Colorado Capitol and in Washington D.C., I have found that unpredictability, the nature of shift work, unaffordable child care, fear of losing a job, inability to take time off, inability to afford time off, lack of paid time or sick time off, and not being able to say no to our conditions is all a part of the reason we don’t and can’t engage in policies that impact our lives.
So, in the spirit that is resilience and International Women’s Day, I want to thank our bill sponsors — true champions of working Coloradans, particularly working women — for building policy and fighting for it with the genuine, deserving, powerful leadership that is us: 450,000 Coloradans representing shift workers that are ready to come back and fight again for a fair workweek. We are not going away, we are only building more bridges every year.
As the coalition’s press release covered: “Working people deserve to know their schedules and income. They deserve to have regular hours so they can plan their lives and get ahead,” said Gonzales-Gutierrez, a bill sponsor. “But while reporting record profits, big corporations continue to deny workers these basic rights. I am proud to have brought this policy forward and will always stand with working people in the fight for better wages and working conditions.”
“I’m disappointed that the Fair Workweek Act fell short this year, even though sponsors and the coalition tried to find compromises with the opposition,” said Sirota, a bill sponsor. “It looks like well-heeled, industry lobbyists won this year, leaving low-wage workers at the mercy of unpredictable schedules that put their health at risk, interfere with their family responsibilities and jeopardize their economic stability.”
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