BY GRANT LANCASTER
New York City Council Members debated the merits of two pieces of legislation Thursday afternoon that are intended to offer fast food workers more rights.
The first, Introduction 1396 sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams, would require that employers lay off their newest workers first when layoffs are necessary, with the intention of protecting veteran employees.
Adams thinks that these new conditions would give employees more job security and dignity, preventing them from being laid off without justification, she said.
“We must continue to bring accountability to fast food giants and ensure security for their employees,” Adams said.
The second legislation, Introduction 1415 sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, would prevent fast food employers from firing their workers without a just cause, generally outlined as economic damage to the employer. The legislation also outlines any reduction in hours by 15% or more a week as akin to firing.
Lander thinks that in addition to offering more respect to workers, the legislation gives them more security to stand up for other treatment issues, such as abuse, misconduct or sexual harassment, because it takes away the fear of being fired in retaliation, he said.
“I think all workers should have this protection, but fast food workers are a good place to start,” Lander said.
Lander thinks that the Council Members will vote on the legislation in the next few months, after thoroughly considering the concerns of citizens and other Council Members, he said.
Before moving forward on the legislation, members of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor heard from other Council Members and several panels made up of Chamber of Commerce officials, restaurant business officials and fast food employees.
Council Member Eric Ulrich spoke against the legislation because he thinks the restrictions on employers will make it harder for them to hire and keep good workers, he said.
Because of the concerns owners of McDonald’s and Chipotle restaurants in his district shared with Ulrich before the hearing, he wants to make sure the legislation is carefully considered, he said.
Loralei Salas, Commissioner of NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, spoke in favor of the legislation, but she is concerned that her department does not have the resources to enforce the new laws, she said.
“We want to make sure these protections are real for workers, and that will require additional resources,” Salas said.
These laws would not affect small businesses, a concern shared by some opposing the legislation, with the restrictions applying only to chain restaurants with more than 30 locations, Salas said.
Jessica Walker, president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and Kathleen Riley, coordinator of NYC Government Affairs for the New York State Restaurant Association, both spoke against the legislation because they think it will negatively affect the hiring process at fast food restaurants.
Riley thinks that the new laws will force restaurant owners to be more specific about their hiring decisions for fear of facing legal consequences if they feel the need to fire an underperforming employee, and that will result in less hires or more strenuous interview processes for potential employees, she said.
“Employers will take fewer chances,” Walker said.
Riley also thinks that the legislation’s stipulation that a 15% reduction in hours was akin to firing an employee was not realistic, she said. In a 40-hour work week, 15% would be six hours, which could amount to less than one shift a week for many workers, she said.
Before the council hearing, members of the 32BJ SEIU worker’s union and Council Members spoke at a rally supporting the legislation on the steps of City Hall.
Jeremy Espinal, who worked at a New York City Chipotle for two years and had his hours cut while his manager hired new employees in the meantime, thinks that the legislation would force employers to treat employees better, he said.
“Chipotle treats me and my coworkers as something disposable, and it feels like they do not care about us as people,” Espinal said.
Council Member Francisco Moya thinks that the ‘just cause’ legislation is the next victory for New York workers, following minimum wage laws and fair workweek laws, he said.
“The jobs that are out there for New Yorkers are being threatened by corporations that don’t care, corporations that are making billions of dollars from us, but treat their workers like crap.” Moya said. “Those days are over, and it stops today.”