When you're a fast food worker, low pay is only one part of a much larger problem.
That's why workers convened on New York's City Hall yesterday—many of whom were among the 3,000 workers who had already signed a petition—asking New York City Council members to support a package of bills that they say would bring stability to both their jobs and their home lives.
A massive issue in the fast food industry is scheduling; workers regularly complain of erratic hours, last-minute schedule changes, and having to work "clopenings"—meaning having to close and open a store without enough time to sleep in between. A series of bills called the Fair Work Week legislation, now before the New York City Council, addresses these issues in several ways. First, the laws would require employers to provide two weeks' advance notice to workers of their schedules—or pay them a penalty. The legislation would also require employers to offer available shifts to existing part-timers, rather than hire new workers. Plus, the laws would discourage clopenings with the use of penalties.
The purpose of the legislation is, in part, to would allow workers more easily to arrange for child care or take on second jobs. Among its supporters is New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio and council member Ben Kallos, who attended the rally today. He told MUNCHIES, "Fast food workers deserve respect from their employers and these laws will make sure we are taking steps in that direction." He called the legislation "common sense" and said it "will go a long way towards improving quality of life for New York City workers. I was proud to show my support."
Rosa Rivera, an employee of a McDonald's in Washington Heights, is a leader in the fast food workers' campaign. She told MUNCHIES: "We went to deliver our petitions at City Hall today so we could show members of the City Council how much we need fair scheduling. I would like them to approve the scheduling laws as soon as possible. We need them to support workers in our industry."
According to Council Member Brad Lander, the Council's Deputy Leader for Policy, this law will make real changes in workers' lifestyles: "Our Fair Work Week legislation provides the possibility of a stable life—low-income New Yorkers should not be subject the whims of shift cancellations and last minute changes to their hours. I'm thrilled that New York City is taking concrete steps toward ensuring that shift workers get the stable, predictable schedules they need for a decent standard of living, and the dignity that all workers deserve." Although still unusual, "fair work week" laws are beginning to spread across the nation.
In addition to the Fair Work Week legislation, another law—this one the first of its kind, and known as the Fast Food Worker Empowerment Act—would allow workers to make automatic contributions directly out of their paychecks to set up a non-profit organization that would advocate for them. Many fast food workers don't have bank accounts, so the direct-contribution feature of this bill is considered both novel and essential.
Last year, New York's Governor Cuomo signed into law a statewide $15 minimum wage plan as well as a 12-week paid family leave policy. The wage increases will come into effect in a staggered time frame over the next few years, depending on business size and location. The newly proposed legislation grew out of the fight to raise the minimum wage.
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Opponents to the laws claim that limiting flexibility of employers—and putting more burdens and expenses on them—will lead to business closures, more automation, and less employment. Kevin Dugan of The New York State Restaurant Association, which opposes the Fair Work Will bill package, said in an official statement at a recent hearing, "Although this package is well intended, I fear this it will hurt those that it has set out to help. Flexibility is a key selling point to many of those who work in the quick-service industry."
The group also opposes automatic contributions to a workers' non-profit: "We see this as further deepening the divide between the employees and employers. Many employers see their employees as part of their family and treat them as such."
Nevertheless, as the Trump administration pursues a wide-ranging anti-regulatory agenda, many workers advocates are looking to states and municipalities to protect workers' rights. Council member Margaret Chin told MUNCHIES: "At a moment when the rights of workers nationwide are under attack by Donald Trump, I am proud to be part of an effort to expand those rights. This legislation is about justice for the thousands of workers who struggle every day with unpredictable hours—often given at a moment's notice.
"It's about providing a path to steady, full-time employment that can sustain workers and their families. And lastly, it's about showing our city and nation what's possible when workers mobilize and fight."