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Fired for No Reason? Fast-Food Workers Complain of Unfair Dismissals
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=36104"><span class="small">Steven Greenhouse, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Friday, 15 February 2019 13:52

Greenhouse writes: "It's easy to get fired in fast food. According to a recent report, one fast-food worker said she was fired because her nails were too long; another because she said she didn't smile enough. That might be about to change."

Fast-food restaurants in New York City may soon have to adhere to a law that prohibits firing an employee without just cause. (photo: Mike Groll/AP)
Fast-food restaurants in New York City may soon have to adhere to a law that prohibits firing an employee without just cause. (photo: Mike Groll/AP)

Fired for No Reason? Fast-Food Workers Complain of Unfair Dismissals

By Steven Greenhouse, Guardian UK

15 February 19

New York bill that could apply in other states would give workers stronger protections if they’ve been fired unjustly

t’s easy to get fired in fast food. According to a recent report, one fast-food worker said she was fired because her nails were too long; another because she said she didn’t smile enough. That might be about to change.

In a first-in-the-nation effort, a city council member in New York moved on Wednesday to make the city’s 60,000 fast-food jobs a lot less precarious – introducing legislation that would prohibit fast-food restaurants from terminating employees except for “just cause”.

“Workers have told me they’ve been fired for no reason at all,” said Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who introduced the measure. “Should employers have the right to fire people for any reason, including the most trivial reasons? Most people would say that’s not a right people should have.”

Lander’s bill is a direct assault on the system of at-will employment that pervades most of the United States. That system lets employers fire workers for any reason; for instance, they dislike a worker’s eyelashes or shoes but not for prohibited reasons, like discriminating by race or religion.

A successful push to change the rules in New York could have significant effects for other states.

Lander voiced confidence that the city council would enact his proposal, which gives three choices to workers who feel they have been fired unjustly: sue in court, seek arbitration or complain to the city’s department of consumer affairs.

Business groups were quick to assert that New York – where the Fight for $15 campaign for a higher minimum wage began – was once again unduly hamstringing business. “If you’re going to say to somebody, any time you want to fire someone, it’s going to be subject to litigation, that’s a big burden, especially if you’re a franchisee,” said Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Economic Policies Institute, a business-backed research group.

The National Restaurant Association hinted at a lawsuit saying this “burdensome and discriminatory legislation” would hurt the industry. It added that such a measure, by overturning at-will employment, would be contrary to New York’s labor laws.

One of the state’s most powerful unions, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union – which represents tens of thousands of janitors and doormen and championed the Fight for $15 early on – vigorously backs Lander’s “just cause” legislation.

“This is trying to address one of the biggest problems in the fast-food industry: many terminations and significant turnover,” said Hector Figueroa, Local 32BJ’s president. “We’re trying to make these good jobs. For these workers, arbitrary terminations are all too common.”

Bryonna Oliver, who was fired last month, said the legislation is badly needed. Oliver, 23, said she had worked at a McDonalds in downtown Brooklyn for two and a half years, but her manager suddenly fired her last month for not reporting to work the previous day.

Oliver insisted she was never scheduled to work that day, but her protests were to no avail. “I was very upset,” she said. “Fast-food workers should not be terminated unfairly. They should only be fired for a good reason.”

On Wednesday, four progressive groups, including the National Employment Law Project and the Center for Popular Democracy, released a research report that provided intellectual ammunition for the just-cause bill. Researchers surveyed 539 New York fast-food workers and found that 65% of the 192 who had ever been terminated from a job reported that they had, in at least one instance, not been given any reason for being fired.

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, the chairwoman of the board of Fast Food Justice, a worker advocacy group, said, “Basically, employers have broad leeway to fire workers for no reason at all, and that wreaks havoc on workers, especially low-wage workers who live paycheck to paycheck.”

Princess Wright, a 22-year-old McDonald’s worker in Brooklyn, said her boss fired her for missing work after he had initially agreed she could miss her shift to help her landlord with a babysitting crisis. Wright, a student at Mercy College, said that after four days of missing work, she managed to persuade her boss to rehire her, but those missed days and a delay in receiving her paycheck caused her to fall behind in paying her rent.

“The reason I was fired was wrong,” Wright said. “This law would make my position much stronger if I’m in a situation like that.”

Adrienne Adams, a councilmember from Queens, introduced a companion bill to Lander’s – hers would require fast-food restaurants to follow seniority when they lay off people for economic reasons, such as a decline in sales. Her bill aims to prevent restaurants from doing layoffs out of seniority order as a pretext to get rid of employees for whom they don’t have just cause to terminate.

“Just-cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast-food giants and security to their employees,” Adams said.

Lander said another advantage of the legislation is that fast-food workers would feel emboldened to speak out about pay and workplace problems once they have “just cause” protections.

Jeff Hanscom, the International Franchise Association’s vice-president for state government relations, criticized the legislation, saying its sponsors “take pride that New York City is in the forefront of doing something nobody else has done. We don’t know what impact this will have. We don’t think there will be a positive impact when government dictates conditions in any sector.”

Hanscom voiced resentment that the city council has repeatedly passed legislation that applies only to what he called the “quick service restaurant” industry.

Hanscom complained: “They seem to have a knack for targeting only one sector of the economy.”

Lander responded: “If the primary complaint that fast-food employers have is that this law should cover more employers, I’d be glad to consider it.”

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+2 # WIlhelmscream2 2019-02-15 15:23
All I did was complain about my super ball paycheck (it bounced); was then told to leave. Restraining made it worse!
0 # DongiC 2019-02-17 04:08
In a society where justice is a sacred value, what's wrong with justice for some of the lowliest of workers?