- New York City Council passed "just cause" legislation on Thursday protecting quick-service employees from being laid off for reasons other than misconduct or failure to do their job. Employers must now take disciplinary steps before termination and to provide written explanations for terminations.
- A separate bill that also passed on Thursday requires QSRs to take seniority into account when determining layoffs when they're necessary. That means last hired must be considered first for layoffs before more senior employees.
- These protections could have a big impact as New York faces another round of indoor dining shutdowns that will likely lead to more layoffs. Prior to the shutdown, restaurants and bars lost over 17,000 jobs in November alone.
QSR workers have been trying to unionize for years and organized strikes for issues like pay raises and safer conditions. The labor movement has made some progress. Last year, McDonald's stopped lobbying for minimum wage increases. The pandemic, however, has created a new list of causes for this labor pool, with many alleging inadequate safety practices and equipment. Some of those workers have also accused chains of firing them over their COVID-19 complaints, as was the case in June when a lawsuit was brought against McDonald's. Other employees have accused chains of forcing them to work through illness.
Because of this pattern, some jurisdictions have made some efforts to strengthen protections for fast food employees. Los Angeles County officials began investigating QSR employee safety in October after a number of concerns were raised, including fear of retaliation for whistleblowing. The Philadelphia City Council passed on Dec. 10 the Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package, which includes employees' right to return to their same jobs as workplaces reopen. This "right to recall" effort for hospitality workers was also passed in Baltimore and several California cities, including Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles City and County.
New York City's legislation will provide more job security for seniority in an unprecedented environment and hold QSR companies more accountable for their termination decisions. Such processes could empower workers across the country who have been lobbing complaints about inadequate protections against a number of chains since the pandemic began.
"Fast food workers have been the victims of arbitrary termination and unfair reduction of hours, which was only exacerbated by COVID-19. Just cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast food companies and security to their employees," New York City Councilmember Adrienne Adams said in a statement to the New York Daily News.
Councilmember Brad Lander, who drafted the "just cause" legislation, told the New York Daily News that the steps are necessary to protect quick-service employees, deemed essential through the pandemic, who are increasingly worried about being fired on a whim for complaining about not feeling safe or needing to care for a loved one.
These issues existed well before that "essential" designation, however. The Center for Popular Democracy found that 65% of employees terminated from QSR jobs in New York City last year had been let go without reason. This "just cause" bill was introduced nearly a year ago, but it was likely exacerbated by the increase in safety-related grievances from workers since the pandemic set in.
Some restaurant companies and industry groups have expressed opposition to New York's new legislation, telling the New York Times the new rules will make it more difficult to manage staff and harder to hire and retain high quality employees when the pandemic has left many people unemployed and could lead to more automation.