New Employment Protections For Fast Food Workers

New Employment Protections For Fast Food Workers
McDonald’s restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Jan. 5, 2021. Salma Elazab/Bklyner

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, essential employees never stopped working – grocery stores were stocked, deliveries were made. And fast food was available to grab and go, its workers among some of the least protected when it comes to their rights in the workplace.

Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio signed two bills ensuring these worker’s rights against unjust termination, wrongful discharge, as well as additional hiring protections.

“A strong, fair recovery starts with protecting working people,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday. “These bills will provide crucial job stability and protections for fast-food workers on the front lines.”

The bills are as follows:

Int. 1415-A (Lander): After an initial probation period of 30 days, fast food employers may not discharge an employee or reduce their average hours by more than 15% without “just cause.” Just cause is failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or engaging in misconduct that is harmful to the fast food employer’s legitimate business interests. In order for an employer to fire an employee based on “just cause”, they must have utilized a progressive discipline policy and applied it consistently.

Int. 1396-A (Adams) allows employers with a bona fide economic reason to lay off an employee, so long as it is done in reverse order of seniority. Employees laid off for economic reason within the last year are entitled to reinstatement or restoration of before new employees are hired. In addition to DCWP enforcement and a private right of action, this bill establishes a new arbitration process overseen by DCWP for employees to enforce their rights.

The new laws will become effective on July 4, 2021. The news will take a while to spread. We stopped by a number of fast-food establishments to see how workers felt about it. At a Mcdonald’s in Bay Ridge, workers were told by their manager not to respond to reporters until after they have clocked out of their shifts.  At a Dunkin Donuts across the street, employees only remarked that working through the pandemic “has been hard”, despite any laws that may have been put in place.

Register at a Dunkin Donuts in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Jan. 5, 2021. Salma Elazab/Bklyner

“Fast food workers have been on the front lines 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. And fast-food workers have been on the front lines of the fight for justice in the workplace as well, from the Fight for $15, to paid sick days, to fair scheduling, transforming low-wage, unstable jobs into dignified work people can rely on,” said Park Slope Council Member Brad Lander who introduced bill 1415 in a released statement.

These bills are projected to affect upwards of 70,000 employees of fast-food businesses in New York City, most of which are non-white.

“Fast food is a low-wage industry that has treated its predominantly minority workforce as if they were disposable, “ Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson said in prepared remarks. “That treatment ends today with the signing of this bill that will protect workers from being fired on a whim, bringing security to the lives of thousands of hardworking New Yorkers.”

Brooklyn, as well as New York City as a whole, runs on minority workers. According to the NYC Labor Market Information Service, only 20% of restaurant and fast food workers are white, with the rest being minorities. The next challenge will be to make sure those who have the new protections are fully aware of them.