When I lost my partner and my home in one fell swoop, becoming a homeless single mother to my three young kids, I thought, at least I have my job.
My work in events management wasn't glamorous: I regularly spent hours guarding cars in a distant parking lot with no bathroom breaks, or stationed by concert speakers, mouth ajar so the bass wouldn't knock my teeth together, defusing men's drunken rages. And I regularly didn't know when or where I was working until that morning. Still, it was a paycheck.
But once I had to shoulder everything, without a car and without any help, life got complicated. And the job that was supposed to be the thing that lifted me out of my troubles became a source of trouble itself. Most of it could have been prevented if Oregon had Fair Work Week laws, like the one the state's Working Families Party is trying to enact.
I had to leave Vancouver, Washington, two hours before my shift to take the public bus over the Columbia River, often before sunrise. That left my 12-year-old son to get his younger siblings up and take them on public transit to school, a three-hour trek. At the end of the day, my oldest would walk to the twins' school and take them back on the bus to the hotel we made our home. We could've stayed in a shelter for free, but kids couldn't enter unattended, so when my work conflicted I had to spend that entire day's wages — or more, often at the last minute — on a place for us to stay.
Meanwhile, my shifts never ended when the scheduling sheet said they should. One particularly bad night, my hours officially ended at 9 p.m., but I wasn't dismissed until 3 a.m. Then I'd have to wait hours for a bus, which dropped me a two-mile walk from home. Sometimes I persuaded a co-worker to drop me off downtown, which meant I didn't have to wait but added an extra mile to my late-night walk. One day I was scheduled to work and I went, despite suffering from stress-induced Bell's Palsy on half my face and anxious about a serious issue affecting my youngest son. When I got there, I let my bosses know that I was struggling but would do my very best. They said they had a full schedule and I could go home. So I did — and they promptly stopped scheduling me for work hours. I was "on probation," they said, for missing days, even though I'd "missed" two: one because they said I could leave that day. The other day I had to turn down a shift because I couldn't afford the hotel room I'd need in order to work. Regardless, they never gave me work after that.
The Fair Work Week legislation sent to Gov. Kate Brown for signature last week would have prevented me from losing my job at my most vulnerable point. The bill mandates that employers provide work schedules two weeks in advance, with partial payment for shifts taken away at the last minute and extra for last-minute additions.
And it mandates 10 hours of rest between shifts, so I wouldn't have had to get up to catch the bus just two or three hours after walking back from a late-night shift.
My kids would have seen their mom when they most needed me during our traumatic transition, and I would have been able to plan our finances to work toward more stable housing.
I couldn't do any of these things when my life was subject to the whim of my employer's erratic scheduling.
Two years later, things are better. We moved across the river to access its social services network, which ultimately allowed us to move into our own apartment in Beaverton. And I have a new job — still hourly, but with co-workers that feel like a team and help one another juggle shifts — something that would still be protected under the Fair Work Week passed by lawmakers last week. It's made all the difference.
Jessica Richey lives in Beaverton with her 16-year-old son and 11-year-old twin daughter and son.