Biz groups lose challenge to Fair Workweek law

Stephon Johnson | 2/27/2020, midnight
Local businesses took a loss recently when New York City’s Fair Workweek law was held up in court.
Fast food workers Mark Hill/CNN

Local businesses took a loss recently when New York City’s Fair Workweek law was held up in court.

A state judge ruled that Fair Workweek, which requires that fast food and retail stores give their employees a predictable schedule, isn’t exempt from the New York State’s wage laws.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that a New York City law requiring predictable scheduling for fast-food and retail workers is not preempted by state wage laws, rejecting a challenge from several business groups represented by the law firm, Littler Mendelson.

But that doesn’t mean the decision was a full endorsement of the law. Engoron rejected the challenge of several business groups, brought in 2018, represented by Littler Mendelson but said that Fair Workweek that “distorts capitalism and is surprisingly complex,” but doesn’t halt the state’s ability to regulate employment. He also said, however, that the law was a “well-intentioned effort to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation”

Nevertheless, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was happy to get his way.

“In New York City, knowing when you’re working and planning accordingly is a right,” de Blasio said. “We fought hard to get workers the peace of mind they deserve and will continue fighting for workers every time anyone tries to take it away.”

The Fair Workweek Law, which went into effect on Nov. 26, 2017,  requires fast-food employers in New York City to give workers good faith estimates of when and how much they’ll work in a week, predictable schedules and shifts, premium pay for any schedule changes, and the opportunity to work any newly available shifts before hiring more employees. 

Fast food employers also aren’t allowed to schedule an employee to work a “clopening (working from opening to closing),” unless the worker consents to it in writing and is paid a $100 premium to work the shift.  

Department of Consumer and Worker Protections (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas stated that the decision was a major victory for workers across the five boroughs. 

“We are ecstatic with the court’s decision on our Fair Workweek Law, which is intended to give fast-food and retail workers in New York City greater control over their lives and the chance to work full-time jobs,” said Salas. “We are committed to protecting New Yorkers and urge any fast food worker experiencing workplace violations to file a complaint with our office.” 

Last fall, the city filed a lawsuit on behalf of employees at five Chipotle Mexican Grill locations in Brooklyn accusing the fast-food giant of violating almost every aspect of the Fair Workweek Law. It’s still pending. 

At the time, Chipotle officials said that they didn’t see the point of the lawsuit. 

“With respect to the Fair Workweek Law, Chipotle has been working cooperatively with the city to ensure we have systems and processes in place to comply with the law, so we believe the filing of charges was unnecessary,” reads a Chipotle spokesperson’s statement. “Regardless, we will continue to cooperate with the city and we are addressing any prior noncompliance concerns,”  

Since Fair Workweek went into effect, the DCWP’s received more than 300 complaints, closed more than 130 investigations, obtained more than $1.5 million in fines and restitution for more than 3,000 workers. 

According to Sherry Leiwant, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, the law is working as intended. 

“The New York State Court’s ruling upholding this law is a victory for millions of working families in New York City. It’s also an important affirmation of New York City’s authority to enact laws for the benefit of its workforce and communities,” stated Leiwant.