Fast food workers typically work long hours for little pay. They are also often at the mercy of employers who force them to work additional shifts with little or no notice. To help remedy this situation, the New York City Council adopted a number of measures last year designed to strengthen the employment rights of fast food workers. This included at least one controversial provision that has been temporarily delayed pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit.
What the Fast Food Deductions Law Requires
The New York City Fast Food Deductions Law, which was supposed to take effect in November 2017, directs fast food employers to deduct voluntary contributions from employee paychecks and remit those funds to qualified nonprofit organizations chosen by the employee. While these nonprofit organizations cannot be labor unions, they can be organizations that advocate for the rights of employees, including their ability to form or join unions. The law is designed to cover anyone who works in customer service, cooking, food preparation, delivery, security, cleaning, stocking, and maintenance for a fast food establishment physically located in New York City, regardless of where the employee actually lives.
The Deductions Law does not require employers to pay their employees any additional wages or benefits. Rather, if the employee gives the employer written authorization, part of the employee's existing wages are deducted and sent to the nonprofit organization. The employer cannot charge any fee to process any authorized deduction, and the nonprofit itself must be registered with the City and meet certain eligibility standards.
Restaurant Lobbyists Allege “Free Speech” Violations
Shortly after the Deductions Law was scheduled to come into force, two organizations representing the restaurant industry filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. The lawsuit argues the City's actions are unconstitutional. More precisely, the lawsuit argues:
- The Deductions Law violates the First Amendment because it “compels employers' speech by forcing unwilling employers to donate employees' wages to ideological and political organizations with whom those employers may and do disagree.”
- The Deductions Law conflicts with and is preempted by federal labor laws, as it gives New York City officials the power to decide what qualifies as a “labor organization,” which is a determination that can only be made by the National Labor Relations Board.
- If fast food restaurants comply with the Deductions Law, they may be liable for criminal sanctions under the federal Labor Management Relations Act, which prohibits employers from making payments to labor organizations, except for payroll deductions to federally recognized labor unions.
The lawsuit remains pending before a federal judge. The City and the plaintiffs agreed to stay enforcement of the lawsuit pending resolution of the case or until March 30, 2018, whichever occurs first.
Speak With a New York City Employee Rights Attorney Today
If New York City ultimately prevails, it would be good news for employees who want to help support organizations that advocate for improved labor conditions. Even as the Deductions Law remains in limbo, that does not mean you have to stand by and put up with abusive workplace conditions. If your employer is violating your legal rights in any way, contact the New York City employment law attorneys at White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP. today.