The Republican minority on the legislative Labor and Public Employees Committee were out-voted, but went down swinging on Thursday, harshly criticizing a variety of bill pushed through by Democrats, including pay hikes for ridesharing and delivery drivers, and penalties for certain employers who suddenly change worker schedules.

Drivers who deliver food and groceries, as well as Uber and Lyft drivers would be paid $36 per hour, plus $1.30 per mile under legislation that next heads to the state Senate. The so-called predictable-scheduling bill, aimed at protecting workers in the retail, food service, hospitality and long-term health care industries with companies of 500 employees or more, moves next to the state House of Representatives.

“That’s not cheap,” said seventh-term Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, a small electrical contractor, of the bill aimed at help gig-economy drivers. “I’m going to be a driver, part-time, as this goes. At this time, the added cost to an individual that can’t get out, that’s a senior, that’s using one of these to get their groceries; a single parent that just doesn’t have time to drag two or three kids to the grocery store and maybe has a meal delivered, that’s the things we need to think about when we impose this.”

“This is one of the most-ironic pieces of legislation that I’ve run across yet,” said Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott, who, like Ackert is a top Republican on the panel. “It shocks me, the level of government interference and over-reach that can be contained in just a few pages of policy. No one is compelling them to have that job. Certainly I heard the testimony of the people complaining that the job doesn’t pay enough and so forth. But that’s just a fact of life. You know, jobs pay what the market will bear.”

He predicted that if passed in the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor, the bill could lead to killing the ridesharing industry.

“My concern is just the shocking degree that this committee and this legislature thinks that it has the right to engage in activity like that,” Sampson said. “It just blows me away. I sit here and can’t even believe that we are in America, and there is a bill in front of us that’s going to tell this private company to tell a willing, independent contractor how much they have to pay them. It does not belong in this country. It’s something that flies in the face of the American system.”

State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, the co-chairwoman of the committee who led the afternoon-long committee meeting, said the bill was modeled after legislation already in place in Washington State. “This gig economy that we’re facing and the changes that are going on because of the technology that’s available, has presented some challenges to us as legislators to understand, to figure out how we are continuing to create standards and working conditions that meet the needs of our families here in Connecticut that are also workable,” Kushner said. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it will destroy the Uber/Lyft businesses.” Democrats on the committee outnumber Republicans 8-4.

The scheduling bill would require employers to notify workers of their coming hours two weeks in advance, and force them to pay workers half their pay for each hour lost, if their shifts are changed with less than a week’s notice. It would affect employers with more than 500 employees globally, including big-box stores and restaurants with more than 30 locations. Such employers have been identified with forcing employees to pick up shifts with no notice, or send them home even if they had been scheduled to work.

“I think it’s a terrible concept,” said first-term Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, noting that recent testimony from the Department of Labor indicated that the law could be hard to enforce. “This is punitive on businesses.”

“There are just some industries that are not predictable,” Sampson said. “I really don’t want to sound like a broken record up here, but the fact of the matter is that is something that needs to be negotiated between those parties. Because there are certain people that are more than willing to work these types of jobs. How do we know that ? Because they’re working right now. The danger of a policy like this is the same as all the other over-reaching policies that we’ve discussed today and in previous meetings of this committee. The people we’re aiming to benefit with this legislation will be at a disadvantage as a result.”

*By Ken Dixon, CT Insider*

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