New Yorkers Stand Up For Essential Workers by Passing Just Cause Legislation
Workforce of Immigrants and People of Color on the Frontlines of the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Have Protections Against Unjust Firings
New York – Today, December 17, 2020, New York City fast food workers became the first in the nation to win protections against unjust firings and hours cuts when the New York City Council passed a package of bills (Intro 1415 and 1396) that will prohibit fast food employers from terminating or cutting workers’ hours without just cause and, additionally, require fast food employers who need to lay off employees due to legitimate economic reasons to do so in order of seniority.
Melody Walker, a Fast Food worker who was fired from Chipotle, said: “When I was fired it happened on the spot during a shift, and the manager told me to go home because I wasn’t smiling. There were not even customers in the store at the time. If we’d had Just Cause laws in place, I wouldn’t have lost my job and my means of supporting my two kids as a single mother. With today’s victory, I hope that no other New York City fast food worker ever has to go through the fear and economic insecurity I experienced when I was unjustly fired.”
Fast food workers are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic but, until now, could be fired or have their hours cut for any reason or no reason at all. Meanwhile, large publicly traded fast food companies like McDonald’s and Chipotle have seen billions in profits during the pandemic, with share prices increasing by at least 30 percent and company values also up by billions.
32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg said, “Our 175,000 members are so proud of this historic victory. Because of their tireless work alongside New York City’s fast food workers, who together have rallied, testified, and organized, we can now say that New York City is the first place in the country where fast food workers will no longer be at-will employees. The passage of just cause legislation is a historic achievement for New York’s fast food workers, their families and their communities. This is a tremendous win for not only New York’s fast food workers but also for all our essential workers, and for all Black and brown workers who have been denied the dignity and respect they deserve for far too long. I applaud the City Council for standing with the workers who continue to feed New Yorkers during this difficult time.”
Corporate giants and their backers claim that Just Cause legislation would impact small businesses, but in fact, the bills only apply to fast food establishments with 30 or more stores. These no-cost measures will protect vulnerable workers who have been risking their lives and their health throughout the pandemic, and whose families are already suffering as employers fire them or cut their hours without cause.
Fourteen-year veteran Domino’s worker Edwin Cabrera said, “I’ve seen coworkers fired for any small reason or no reason at all. A good friend of mine was fired because on a super busy day he said he needed help. It feels like we can’t speak up to ask for help because we could be fired or have our hours cut in half at any moment. At different times I’ve had my hours cut drastically for no reason. That made it difficult to provide for my two children, who are 11 and 15. As a father, just cause will give me and my family relief from the constant worry about whether I’ll have a job tomorrow.”
Chipotle worker Jeremy Espinal, who has had his hours cut, said, “Just Cause is going to have a profound impact on the lives of fast food workers. I’ve seen so many coworkers fired just because a manager didn’t like them, or because a manager wanted to bring their own workers in, even if they were really good at their job. It feels like managers are constantly changing the goal posts so they can find excuses to fire us. I’ve spent countless sleepless nights worrying about whether I’m going to be fired for no reason. That fear has created so much stress in our lives and created a revolving door of high turnover in fast food. All that changes with today’s victory.”
As New York’s fast food workers struggle to protect their health and earn enough money to support their families, they are still in precarious jobs and, until now, have had little recourse if they’re fired or have their hours cut for no reason. Fast food workers are predominantly immigrants or women of color who face discrimination and racism in their communities and at work.
“Fast food workers are routinely fired from their jobs without a cause related to their work performance. This practice prevents them from speaking out about harassment and poor work conditions. It must stop. They deserve a just cause for termination and the freedom to speak out without fear of being fired. Workers continue to face dangerous conditions on the job due to COVID and we must ensure our essential workers are protected from unjust termination,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, fast food workers performed dangerous and physically demanding work. Now as essential workers, their jobs have become more dangerous, putting their health and their family’s health at risk. Many take this risk because they have no choice—they need to work just to survive and put food on the table.
City Council Member Adrienne Adams said, “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. The majority Black, brown and immigrant fast food workers have been forgotten about for far too long. 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.”
City Council Member Brad Lander said, “I’m proud to stand with 32BJ and the nearly 70,000 fast food workers in New York City on this historic day as we pass first in the nation protections for fast food workers and their families. Fast food workers have been on the frontlines of this pandemic, serving their neighbors while navigating health and safety risks in a precarious, low paying industry. Protections such as our just cause legislation will go a long way in lifting up families and giving communities a sense of stability. ”
City Council Member Mark Levine said, “Nearly 70,000 fast-food workers in New York City have been putting their health on the line to work during this pandemic in an industry notorious for its treatment of low-wage workers. Fast Food companies are making billions while not giving their essential workers the basic protections they deserve, including knowing they won’t be fired without just cause. These corporate giants, like McDonald’s and Chipotle, need to give working families economic stability and security, and most importantly, treat their workers with respect and dignity. I’m proud to stand in solidarity with these New Yorkers in their fight for Just Cause legislation.”
“My brothers and sisters in the fast food industry have been on the frontlines putting their lives at risks during the worst pandemic of our time. We cannot have our essential workers go into work worrying that they will be terminated or lose hours without just cause. As our community continues to face discrimination, having these protections will be a step towards combating systemic racism and economic injustice,” stated City Council Member Francisco Moya.
“Labor laws in the U.S. are intimately connected to this nation’s history of racial capitalism, and one of their most egregious injustices is the fact that employees can be fired abruptly—without notice or a good reason, and left with bills due and no paycheck or severance pay. This at-will employment, wreaks havoc on the lives of U.S. workers and their families, when the paycheck they depend on is there one day and is gone the next. With today’s historic just cause victory, fast food workers, who have been sustaining New York during the pandemic while facing unfair job conditions, will become some of the first non-union workers in the U.S. to no longer be at-will employees,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.
“New York City’s 67,000 fast-food workers are frequently upended by arbitrary firings and dramatic cuts in hours that lead to housing instability, food insecurity, and family stress. We are proud to stand with fast food workers and 32BJ as we pass the necessary just cause protections for workers and their families, so they can come home not having to worry about their employment status the next morning,” said Rachel Deutsch, Supervising Attorney for Worker Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy.
Associate professor of public affairs at Columbia University Alexander Hertel-Fernandez said, “Corporate giants like McDonald’s and Chipotle have had an outsized influence over their workers’ lives, both at work and through our labor policies. New York City’s new Just Cause legislation will go far in rebalancing the economic and political playing field for frontline fast food workers by giving those workers more economic stability and a stronger voice on and off the job.”
Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at CUNY and the Director of the Food Policy Institute said, “By protecting workers from arbitrary terminations and drastic cuts in hours, New York City can ensure that fast food workers don’t have to choose between their job and their own or their family’s health.”
As we continue to look for ways to fight systemic racism and economic injustice, New York City’s 57,000 fast food workers are fighting for and winning workplace solutions—like passing Just Cause legislation.
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 12,000 in New Jersey and 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country