Worker Rights Movement on the Move in NYC


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Labor advocates are raising these concerns about fast-food employment.

(Courtesy Hot Schedules)

The employee-rights movement continues to gain momentum, most recently in New York City. There, new laws regarding worker scheduling and fast-food employees’ support of pro-labor groups through payroll deductions went into effect on November 26, having been signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio in May.

The industry is fighting back. Regarding payroll deduction: On November 21 the Restaurant Law Center, an affiliate of the National Restaurant Association, sued the City of New York and Lorelei Salas, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The RLC argued, among other things, that the new law abridged fast-food employers’ First Amendment rights. According to the court filing,  “ . . . the First Amendment entitles employers not to assist with ‘provid[ing] a voice’ for movements with which those employers may disagree.” 

In short, the measure requires fast-food chains with more than 30 units nationwide to permit employees to voluntarily contribute through payroll deductions to city-certified non-profit organizations that advocate on behalf of workers. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $500 per violation. Not surprisingly, the pro-labor non-profit Fast Food Justice has been actively seeking to gain 500 members since May — the threshold number a non-profit must sign up before becoming qualified to receive automatic deductions.

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a Fast Food Justice board member, told the American Prospect in June: “In these difficult times when low-wage and immigrant communities are under increasing attack, this is more important than ever.”  

New York’s Fair Work Week measures have received the most publicity. Fast-food employers, for example, must give two weeks’ advance notice of schedules (or pay a penalty) pay workers additional sums. They must also allow 11 hours between shifts if the worker is working back-to-back shifts (“clopenings”). Moreover, shifts that become available must go to existing part-time workers before new workers can be hired. There isn’t much operators can do to avoid compliance.  “Businesses must comply with predictive scheduling laws in a way that permits them to remain efficient and profitable, while also ensuring compliance and minimizing the possibility of exposure to a class action suit or investigation,” warns Alton & Bird attorney Jim Evans, who advises companies on on-call shift policies.

A “Fair Work Week Ordinance” was enacted in July, in Emeryville, Calif. The law applies to large fast-food chains with 56 or more employees, with 20 or more in Emeryville. The law went into effect on July 1. Seattle city council passed a “secure scheduling” law in July to protect restaurant and retail workers from long shifts.

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