New report finds Employers in Fast Food Industry fire workers arbitrarily or without stated reason

New York City Fast Food workers are being fired or having their hours reduced, for any or no reason, forcing thousands of New York families to live in constant uncertainty and fear, according to a new report.

To fix the pervasive problem, New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams are working to protect workers from unfair firings by introducing two bills today that will prohibit fast food employers from firing workers without just cause and to require that employers use seniority to determine which employees to displace during layoffs due to economic reasons.

“Anyone who has worked at a fast food restaurant knows the potential to be fired without notice, without explanation, and without just cause. That’s why Council Member Adrienne Adams and I have introduced legislation in the City Council – the first of its kind in the country – to stop it,” Lander said at a rally on the steps of City Hall.

Many Fast Food Workers count on every single paycheck to support themselves and their families, and a sudden loss of an income could mean the difference between having a stable address and becoming homeless, 32BJ SEIU Treasurer Kyle Bragg said.

“However, we need to do more to address the constant threat of joblessness that workers in the industry still face,” Bragg said. “The ‘Just Cause’ legislation will not only protect Fast Food Workers, it will bolster other legislative gains the workers have won.”

The ‘Just Cause’ bills will prohibit employers from firing an employee for any reason other than the employee’s failure to perform job duties or misconduct in the workplace that harms the employer’s legitimate business interests and from laying off employees absent a bona fide economic reason, and will consider a reduction in hours of 15% equivalent to a termination, to ensure employers cannot skirt the new standard by forcing people to quit.

Lander pointed to a survey conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy that shows that 65% of fast food workers said employers terminated their jobs without providing any reason and 62% of respondents who lost a fast-food job or suffered a cut in hours experienced financial hardship, like housing instability or food insecurity.

The survey Lander mentioned is contained in the report, “Fired on a Whim: The Precarious Existence of NYC Fast Food Workers,” released jointly today by 32BJ SEIU, the National Employment Law Project, Fast Food Justice, and CPD.

“For far too long fast food workers have been the victims of unfair reduction of hours or arbitrary termination,” Council Member Adams said. “In New York City we must stand up and address these injustices in an effort to protect workers in this industry. Just cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast food giants and security to their employees.”

The report contained testimonies from workers who detailed being fired unfairly or having their hours reduced drastically. Princess Wright has worked at a Downtown Brooklyn McDonald’s for four years, during which time she went to school full time. She is due to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice. But, two days before Thanksgiving last year, her supervisor fired her for a misunderstanding over an extra shift.

Wright said she had told the manager she was unavailable to work at that time. When the manager scheduled her for the shift anyway, she made time and planned to work the shift.

“But, then, I had a personal emergency that made it impossible for me to work that shift,” Wright said. “I called my manager well in advance of the shift to let him know I could not make it to work. He was very understanding when he discussed the situation with me. But, when I came in for my next shift, he fired me, citing a list of write-ups that I had never seen before.”

Wright fought back and won her job back four days later but the income she lost during the time she was out of work created a hardship for her.

Workers in the industry also say another way fast food restaurants try to push workers out is by reducing the number of hours they are allowed to work.

“They reduce our hours so much that some of us have no choice but to quit because we cannot survive on what we earn from so few hours of work,” Elaina Latrese, who has worked in the industry for six years, said. “This is unfair and unacceptable. We deserve dignity and job security instead of being treated as disposable.”

“No worker should have to live with the threat that they could be fired or have their hours reduced at any moment, for no reason at all,” Rachel Deutsch, Supervising Attorney for Worker Justice at CPD, said. “Yet in the fast food industry, the workforce of primarily women of color do physically taxing work in the constant fear of losing their job. With this landmark Just Cause legislation, New York City has the opportunity to protect the livelihoods of thousands of its residents.”

“Fast food workers are some of our most vulnerable workers, and they work within a system where they can be fired for ‘not smiling enough.’ But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m proud to join Council Member Adams, 32BJ SEIU, and advocates to unveil our legislation to prevent firings without just cause,” Lander said.

“Our new study finds that fast-food workers are routinely fired with no chance to address supervisors’ complaints, and no severance pay at all. New York’s at-will employment system makes this possible, too often with catastrophic economic consequences for workers and their families. A just-cause employment law establishing basic protections for the fast-food industry will guarantee a measure of fairness for workers—and benefit the industry by ensuring a more stable and experienced workforce,” said Leo Gertner, report co-author and staff attorney at NELP.

“This vital legislation will give fast food workers more stability in their working lives and enable them to support their families without fear of losing their job for no reason,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, president of Fast Food Justice. “We’ve heard time and time again from fast food workers who have been fired without warning or reason about the havoc it wreaks on their lives and how this sudden loss of income makes it even more difficult to pay rent and meet the bills. This is a community crisis, and we applaud the City Council members who are standing up today for fast food workers and for a stronger, more just New York City.”

The proposed legislation has garnered wide support in the New York City Council.

“We’re proud to stand with my colleagues in the City Council introducing groundbreaking legislation to prevent fast food workers from being fired for arbitrary reasons. Hard working New Yorkers deserve job protections, and increasing job stability only benefits our communities. Thank you to the brave fast food workers who continue to fight for their rights on the job, as well as 32BJ, Center for Popular Democracy, Fast Food Justice, and NELP,” said Council Member Justin Brannan.

“For too long, fast food workers have been told they are interchangeable,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Prohibiting employers from firing fast food workers without just cause would restore respect and stability to these jobs. Thank you to Council Members Lander and Adams for introducing this important legislation, as well as to 32BJ, the Center for Popular Democracy, NELP, and all the fast food workers who have organized for better job standards.”

Council Member Rory Lancman said: “After fighting for and winning a $15 minimum wage and fair scheduling, job security is the next frontier for fast food workers across the city. ‘Just cause’ protections will give thousands of New Yorkers stability and relief from arbitrary termination.”

And Council Member Mathieu Eugene added that “Fast Food Workers must be protected by better laws at their place of employment. The Just Cause Law will ensure that these hard working men and women will have a level of job protection and security that is essential for their well-being.”

“Fast food workers continue to be subjected to unfair work environments, where they can be fired at any moment or see significant decreases in their hours. This system disadvantages workers and compromises their housing, food security, and healthcare. I am proud to co-sponsor the Just Cause legislation to address these exploitative practices and look forward to working alongside my colleagues to pass these bills,” said Council Member Diana Ayala.

“It is cruel, bordering on psychotic, to strip someone of their livelihood out of a fit of pique or greed, but that’s what fast food workers face every day,” said Council Member Francisco Moya. “Fast food workers and all working-class New Yorkers deserve the dignity and stability that employment should promise. I stand with my colleagues, Council Members Adrianne Adams and Brad Lander, in this fighting to protect that promise.”

“I am proud to join 32BJ SEIU in supporting the ‘Just Cause’ bill to prevent fast food workers from being fired without just cause,” Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said. “All workers deserve dignity, respect, and job protections, and it’s past time this extends to the fast food industry. It is unfair that employers can currently fire or reduce the hours of fast food workers for entirely arbitrary reasons. This legislation would help combat anxiety and uncertainty in the workplace, and effectively implement a uniform rule for the fast food industry.”