The New York City Council approved a bundle of workplace related bills Wednesday despite concerns they could cause problems for local businesses.
The Fair Work Week legislative package includes a bill that would put restrictions on how fast-food employers can schedule their employees. It also has a measure which would allow employees to deduct some of their paycheck to automatically go to a nonprofit. Critics contest the package is more beneficial to unions than workers.
New York Councilman Brad Lander introduced the scheduling proposal to provide fast-food workers a fairer schedule. The proposal requires fast-food employers to set schedules for hourly workers at least two weeks in advance. It also requires employers to provide workers an estimate of their work schedule upon being hired. Lander’s office confirmed to InsideSources that the legislative package was passed.
“Without a stable work schedule, who can build a stable life?” Councilman Lander said in an earlier statement. “New Yorkers trying to pay the rent and feed their families should not be subject to the whims of shift cancellations and last minute changes to their hours. I’m proud that the New York City Council is helping fast food workers achieve a fair work week.”
New York Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland introduce the paycheck deduction proposal. It enables fast-food workers to support a nonprofit organization by requiring employers to honor workers’ requests to deduct voluntary contributions from their paycheck.
“Workers are also calling on the council to pass the Fast-Food Worker Empowerment Act, a first-of-its-kind bill that would enable fast-food workers to set up a non-profit organization to fight for themselves and their communities,” Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union stated.
Those in support of the scheduling rule believe it is necessary to protecting fast-food employees against unfair work schedules. Fast-food and other service sector employees often face unpredictable schedules. Schedules are sometimes written only days in advance and last minute changes are a common practice.
Employers would also have to pay a premium for schedule changes made within the two weeks notice. Schedule changes include canceling, moving shifts, adding additional hours, and adding shifts. Councilman Corey Johnson introduced legislation that applies to retail employees.
San Francisco and Seattle have adopted similar policies. Supporters claim it is a necessity for workers. Next Generation, a progressive nonprofit, argued the absence of such laws can make life very tough for workers who have to schedule their work around other life commitments.
Those opposed to the bill warn it could have adverse consequences that would hurt the very workers its meant to help. Service sector employers cannot always predict exactly how many workers they need at any particular time, which is why they utilize part-time and standby workers.
Employers may also be forced to limit the size of their staffs or make stricter schedules to overcome the burdens. The We Serve New Yorkers coalition, which consists of local businesses and employees, issued 350 testimonials May 23 from employers and workers opposed to the proposal.
The Employment Policies Institute (EPI), a conservative research nonprofit, looked at the impact of the policy where it has already been enacted. EPI found San Francisco employers became less flexible with employees’ schedule changes, offered fewer part-time positions, scheduled fewer employees per shift, and offered fewer jobs.
“We also know that other cities that have tried this, like San Francisco, have found that employees windup with less schedule flexibility afterwards,” EPI managing director Michael Saltsman told InsideSources. “You pass a law which fines employers for schedule changes, you’re going to have less schedule flexibility. So I think New York City can expect fewer opportunities for employees in an industry that is already under siege because of the forthcoming $15 minimum wage in New York.”
Critics have also expressed concern the city council is only pursuing the labor proposals because of union-backers. Labor unions have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to city council members over the past four years. The concern is lawmakers are now ignoring the potential problems the policy might cause.
NYC Council Civil Service and Labor Committee members have received some of the largest union contributions. The committee allowed the proposals to move forward earlier this year. Labor unions have contributed $154,694 to three of the committee members. Some critics have also expressed concern the political contributions were aimed at influencing the five-member committee.
Saltsman also expressed concern over the paycheck deduction proposal. The bill allows fast-food workers to require their employer to deduct contributions from their paycheck to go to a nonprofit which could include those that are union-aligned.
Critics contest it doesn’t actually offer a benefit since employees can already donate money to nonprofits. Rather, it establishes a collective structure of support towards political movements, like the union-backed ones geared towards fast-food workers.
“There’s really only one reason for a bill like this to exist,” Saltsman said. “The council members need a reminder that their title isn’t labor organizer, and they haven’t been elected to do special favors for the service employees unions.”
Saltsman wrote in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal last week that Fast Food Justice was already established by local unions as a nonprofit geared towards fast-food workers. He notes unions tried similar tactics to gain a further foothold in the fast-food industry by establishing worker centers and the Fight for $15 movement.