City Council Approves “Just Cause” & Extension of Gas Inspections Legislation

The City Council this week voted to approve two controversial regulatory bills that will force fast-food franchisees to explain to local government their economic reasoning for terminating employees or substantially reducing their hours as well to explain an employee’s demonstrated failure to satisfactorily perform job duties or misconduct.

While the legislation currently applies to only fast-food chains with 30 stores or more, it is not known at post time if it will apply to smaller chains in the city such as Kennedy Fried Chicken or Golden Crust. Known as the “Just Cause” legislation, the measures were championed by the Union 32BJ SEIU and small business regulatory-heavy lawmakers such as City Councilmember and Comptroller candidate Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Gowanus).

City Council Member Brad Lander

“No one should be fired based just on a whim. But for years in the fast-food industry, that’s been the norm for workers. Low pay and little job security have long made the industry rife with abuses and indignities,” said Lander, who was a prime sponsor behind one of the measures.

“Now, employers will be required to implement fair dismissal policies, including a clear disciplinary process and a written rationale (a “just cause”) before letting someone go. When fast-food chains need to make layoffs for budgetary reasons, they’ll be required to go in the order of reverse seniority, to ensure that layoffs don’t just become an excuse for bringing back arbitrary, unfair firings,” he added.

The restaurant industry, which often operates on small profit margins, and business advocates strongly opposed the legislation and expressed themselves following the vote.

“It is outrageous and unacceptable for the City Council to choose this devastating moment to further hamstring the business operations of New York City’s restaurants by passing “just cause” legislation today. How can a City Council that recognizes restaurants as “COVID-impacted businesses” turn around and subject them to fines, costly arbitration, or lawsuits any time they have to let an employee go? We are not talking about wrongful termination, which is already illegal. We’re talking about singling out a sector and trampling on their at-will employment rights under state law. We are incredibly disappointed that this legislation has been rushed through without appropriate consideration for the consequences. If Mayor de Blasio and his administration care about preserving any semblance of a restaurant industry in this city, we urge him to veto these illegal and overreaching measures,” said Melissa Fleischut, President & CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers said the “Just Cause” legislation passage dealt a serious blow to the local economy, and to the city’s small business community.

“Almost overnight, in the worst throes of an unprecedented economic crisis, the Council eliminated small business owners’ ability to make personnel decisions and manage their employees.  These very same councilmembers profess to support our small businesses, until of course, a bigger more powerful special interest instructs them otherwise.  And make no mistake, this won’t be the last attack on at-will employment in New York State. They will come after mainstream restaurants and other food establishments next,” said Peers.

Voting against both measures were City Council Members Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn), Kalman Yeger (D-Brooklyn), Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island), Mark Gjonaj (D-Bronx), Steven Matteo (R-Staten Island) and Eric Ulrich (R-Queens).

Separately, the council also voted to extend the deadline for the inspection of gas piping systems and certifications that hazardous conditions have been corrected for buildings in Community Districts 1, 3 and 10 in all boroughs. As the December 31, 2020 deadline for buildings in these districts approached, building owners expressed concerns that compliance with these requirements has been impeded by uncertainty regarding the requirements, the lack of outreach from the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the COVID-19 crisis.

“Gas inspections save lives, but property owners shouldn’t be blindsided by at possible $10,000 civil penalty. That’s why I sponsored a common-sense extension for homeowners to have extra time for making inspections due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said City Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. (D-Brooklyn).

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