NEW YORK, NY — Fast food workers, labor advocates, and community organizations rallied at City Hall Thursday ahead of a hearing on a package of legislation to protect fast food workers from being fired without just cause. New York City fast food workers are at frequent risk of being fired or having their hours reduced, without being given any reason or notice, forcing thousands of New York families to live in constant uncertainty and fear.

The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will hear testimony today on two pieces of groundbreaking legislation, sponsored by Council Members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams, 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. The legislation, among the first proposed in the country to bring just cause protections to non-unionized workers, would improve working conditions for tens of thousands of workers in the industry and builds on the efforts to raise wages and legislate fair scheduling in New York City.

“Starting with the Fight for $15, which has resulted in over 20 million Americans getting a pay raise, fast food workers have been on the frontlines of transforming low-wage, unstable jobs into dignified work that people can rely on,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Ending unfair firings is the next frontier. Too many fast-food workers have been fired without a just cause, without a warning, without even any notice. And if you can be fired simply on the whim of an angry boss or a disgruntled customer’s complaint, then you’re far more vulnerable to harassment or abuse. This legislation will bring more stability and dignity to the jobs of tens of thousands of fast food workers in New York City, and offer a model for millions of other workers as well.”

65% of fast food workers in NYC who lost their jobs were fired without a reason, according to a study released last year by the Center for Popular Democracy and the National Employment Law Project. Most fast food workers cannot afford to miss a paycheck. The survey of fast food workers across NYC found that 62% of respondents who lost a fast-food job or suffered a cut in hours experienced financial hardship, like housing instability or food insecurity.

“For far too long fast food workers have been the victims of unfair reduction of hours or arbitrary termination,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “By enacting Just Cause legislation, the City could require that fast-food chains demonstrate a legitimate reason for terminating a worker or reducing their hours. 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 Just Cause legislative package will protect workers from unfair firings or drastic cuts in hours. Int. 1415 (Lander) will prohibit fast food employers from firing an employee for any reason other than the employee’s failure to perform job duties or misconduct and will consider a reduction in hours of 15% or more equivalent to a termination, to ensure employers cannot skirt the new standard by forcing people to quit by cutting their hours. Int. 1396 (Adams) will require layoffs for economic reasons to proceed with reverse seniority, so that employers cannot do by way of layoffs what they will not be able to do through arbitrary dismissals.

At the rally, fast food workers shared stories of being unfairly terminated or having their hours cut. Many workers spoke of struggling to make rent, pay for childcare, or medical bills as a result of being fired abruptly without cause. Melody Walker, who worked at Chipotle, was fired on the spot in the middle of her shift in 2017. All the reason her boss gave was that she was “not smiling enough.”

“I did my job well and always arrived early for my shift. I thought that it could be a stable job with an income that I could support my family with. There were not even customers in the store at the time,” said Walker.

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 President Kyle Bragg said. “In recent years, fast food workers have been organizing to change conditions in their industry to create better jobs, not only for themselves and their families but for all communities. But the fast food industry is still very broken. Employers turn workers’ lives upside down, firing them for arbitrary reasons or no reason at all, forcing families to live with constant uncertainty,” said Bragg.

“Just cause is a basic right of workers in the rest of the world. Like raising the minimum wage, polls show that voters want Congress to take action on the issue. In considering this bill, the New York City Council should once again be commended for serving as an incubator of badly-needed labor law reform,” said Shaun Richman, program director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College.

“Ensuring that workers receive notice, a good reason, and fair process before losing their jobs protects families and communities. It’s also good human resources policy, since workers who are secure in their jobs are more productive,” said Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project.

“The people gathered here are workers, community members and advocates who have struggled and achieved victories like $15 an hour, paid sick days and more,” said Angeles Solis, Lead Organizer for Make the Road New York’s Workplace Justice Team. “Firing on a whim enables bosses to evade accountability and block workers from enforcing their rights. The New York City Council can send a clear message to the entire State and Country that these workers need just cause protections now! We will keep fighting in Albany for more protections with fast food workers and others!”