The City Council last week passed two measures aimed at protecting the jobs of fast-food workers.
A measure sponsored by Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) prohibits fast-food restaurants from terminating employees or reducing their hours absent economic reasons, such as the full or partial closing of the restaurant, or technological or organizational changes brought on by a reduction in sales or profits.
The Adams measure also requires layoffs to take place based on seniority, with the last hired being the first fired.
Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) sponsored the bill that would require just cause for termination in writing, such as failure to perform the job’s duties or misconduct.
The bills are aimed at chains with 30 or more locations. Both had the backing of Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), and will take effect 180 days after they are signed into law.
Adams, writing on Twitter, said fast-food workers, who performed physically demanding work before the Covid-19 outbreak now are essential workers who are putting their health at risk.
“Getting fired without just cause should not be something any New Yorker has to be afraid of, let alone those who have been deemed essential workers during the pandemic,” Adams said in a statement issued by the Council.
“The majority black, brown and immigrant fast-food workers have been forgotten about for far too long,” she added. “I’m proud to have championed just cause legislation and I’m proud to celebrate our victory today in creating a workplace solution that will address the systemic racism and economic injustice.”
While Adams’ statement did include a reference to jobs being impacted by technological advances, her office did not respond prior to the Chronicle’s deadline when asked if the councilwoman is concerned that the bills might cause restaurant owners to introduce more automation.
BJ32 SEIU, a union which represents some fast-food workers, applauded the bills’ passage on Twitter.
“These bills are life changing for our fellow 67,000 fast-food workers, primarily Black and Brown workers, from unfair firings & hour reductions. Thank you @NYCCouncil for passing #JustCause protections!”
Lander, too, emphasized the greater importance and burdens that have been placed on fast-food workers since Covid-19 struck.
“Fast-food workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, serving their neighbors, working in tight quarters, taking on new responsibilities for sanitizing, and yet often unable to speak up about health and safety issues for fear of losing their jobs,” he said in the Council’s statement.
“These workers, the majority of whom are women and young people of color, have fought hard for years to raise wages and demand workplace protections,” Lander added.
In press releases issued by the Save NYC Business Coalition, a number of business leaders from throughout the city voiced their objections. Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, called the laws outrageous and unacceptable, calling them “completely out of touch with the grim reality for restaurants right now.
“How can a City Council that recognizes restaurants as ‘COVID-impacted businesses’ turn around and subject them to fines, costly arbitration, or lawsuits any time they have to let an employee go?” Fleischut asked. “We are not talking about wrongful termination, which is already illegal. We’re talking about singling out a sector and trampling on their at-will employment rights under state law.”
Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, was similarly disenchanted with the legislation.
“A trifecta of bad decisions and ill-informed reasoning: indoor dining shutdowns, no Federal aid via the long-promised RESTAURANTS Act of 2020 and now punitive measures by those who have neither missed a paycheck nor worried about medical benefits,” Grech said.