Senate bill is step in right direction for vulnerable workers
I spent years as a young worker laboring in retail and restaurant jobs with unstable hours. At a job like that, your entire life is at the mercy of management, because they control your livelihood.
I remember one time when I was called in to work during a previously scheduled doctor's appointment. I told my boss I couldn't go, and he tried to make me feel like I was being disloyal to the company. I was working my butt off to do a good job; to have that questioned when my health was at stake was unfair and unethical.
The Oregon workers I represent nowadays are not waiters or sales associates. I'm the head of the state's farmworkers union, called Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), overseeing 6,500 farm and forest workers.
But when I learned about the bill headed to the State House that helps stabilize the schedules of workers in chain restaurants and retail, I immediately offered to help support it.
The bill, SB 828B, would require that big restaurants and stores in the state give two weeks' notice of work hours, mandate a 10-hour break between shifts and pay extra for last-minute scheduling — or last-minute shift cancellations. The bill is headed to the House floor for a vote this week.
I firmly believe in this fight, because justice for some people helps lift all people. Our state lawmakers must vote to approve the measure.
There are many intimate bonds between the worlds of hourly restaurant and retail work and that of the workers PCUN seeks to protect. Since farm work is seasonal, many farmworkers are retail and restaurant workers too. That guy working in Burger King in December? He could be picking Oregon's strawberries, blueberries or squash in June. I know many farmworkers, too, whose relatives work in the areas covered by the bill. And these relatives can't plan for childcare, or medical appointments, or family events without the possibility that work will intervene.
One PCUN member recently sent his son to talk to me. The young man had protested being told to do an unfair amount of the hardest physical tasks his retail job required. Instead of engaging the young man in conversation, his boss just stopped giving him hours. Protecting workers like this would give them more recourse against bad bosses.
Not only do improved conditions for some directly affect the lives of their loved ones, changing the rules for large parts of the economy will shift standard work conditions in everyone's favor. Pre-scheduled work hours without back-to-back shifts would start to become the standard for all of Oregon's hourly workers — if employers that aren't affected by the bill don't change their practices, they will lose the best employees to places that will. That includes many PCUN members who work unstable hours in Oregon's dairy farms.
Workers have gone on without these rights for too long. When we strengthen the rights of one sector of our community, all workers benefit from it.