Connecticut lawmakers help, but must do better for working people

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In April, I gave birth to my first child. Because here at Working Families we have a strong commitment to policies that enable workers to balance their professional and personal lives, I have been using maternity leave and have been home taking care of my son for most of the time since.

I am lucky — 88 percent of working people have no paid leave at their jobs for the arrival of a child or medical crisis in the family.

I do not know what my family would have done if I did not have that time. My son needs me in these early weeks of life, and we still have the same bills to pay as we did before he was born. So I was proud that the Connecticut legislature took a big step toward establishing a statewide paid family and medical leave program in the last session because no one should have to make the impossible choice between caring for themselves or a family member, and their paycheck.

But this victory also highlighted just how far we still need to go to make sure that workers can support their families.

For too many people, our economy isn’t working, and women face additional disparities. Women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women make up two-thirds of the minimum wage work force, and over 70 percent of servers. Women are far more likely to have the primary responsibility to care for children, and represent more than two-thirds of adults providing substantial assistance to elderly parents.

So this year Working Families, along with a coalition of advocacy and labor organizations, launched the Women’s Economic Agenda to draw attention to these disparities and fight for bills that would ensure workers, and especially women, can survive in our difficult and changing economy.

The bills included critical initiatives like expanding our landmark and successful paid sick days program to cover workers left out because of business size and industry, establishing a paid family and medical leave program, creating fair scheduling guidelines, eliminating the unfair sub-minimum wage tipped workers are paid, and protecting workers from wage theft.

Lawmakers took some important steps this legislative session.

They put money in the budget for the Department of Labor to come up with a plan to run a Paid Family and Medical Leave plan, putting us on a path to real protection for working families. They also established a Low Wage Advisory Board that will provide the Governor with recommendations about the problems caused by corporations paying their employees poverty wages. They also passed a bill in to law that protects workers whose wages are stolen, making it easier for them to recoup their stolen wages.

These are critical steps, but the legislature needs to do far more.

Over the past year, we talked to thousands of people across the state. They told us they were struggling to make ends meet and care for their families. We talked to Cindy who is afraid she is going to be fired from her job when she has to stay home with her sick kids. We talked to Rita who lost her job because she took eight weeks of unpaid maternity leave. We talked to Kelly, who, like so many hourly workers in the service sector, is effectively on call with little notice of their upcoming schedule, and unpredictable hours. We talked to Bianca, who was fired because she got the flu and did not go in to work where she serves food.

These stories make it painfully clear that families are suffering and need legislative action.

We must do more next year to build an economy that truly works for everyone. People who work hard should be able to support and protect their families. But in our low-wage, race to the bottom economy, that is increasingly becoming a pipe dream.

Minimum wage workers are essentially ‘on call’ every day, without a consistent schedule. Servers are making just $5.78 an hour in wages. Cooks and sales clerks are forced to come in to work when they are sick, prolonging their illness and putting their coworkers and customers at risk.

Legislators failed to act this year. They let these terrible situations continue. They must do better next year.

Lindsay Farrell is the executive director of Connecticut Working Families.

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