New York City’s fast-food workers won an important victory last fall. Mayor Bill de Blasio approved four new workplace laws forwarded by City Council that provide for a minimum rest period between shifts, predictable scheduling, and other measures.
One significant measure permits workers in the fast-food industry to have management deduct a portion of their wages and send them to a non-profit organization that workers select.
Why is this deduction important?
Fast-food workers have struggled to make ends meet as rent and other living expenses increase at a rate higher than their paychecks. Under such circumstances, why would anyone agree to have another deduction?
The answer is simple. Workers who consent to this deduction have directed their employer to send some of the wages they earn to a non-profit that will advocate for them. This first-of-its-kind law took effect last November, almost five years to the day after the nation’s first walkout by fast-food workers occurred in New York City to protest poverty wages.
These non-profit organizations are not unions. At a time when many industries have pushed back against labor organizations and collective bargaining, non-profits such as Fast Food Justice that are permitted to accept these contributions under this new law try a different approach: They use the funds contributed from the fast-food employees’ wages to advocate for issues that these workers deem important. They inform workers of their rights under municipal law. These groups also plan to address issues beyond the workplace, such as the need for immigration reform and affordable housing.
Does this guarantee protections for fast-food workers?
Fast Food Justice and similar non-profits are not unions. They cannot negotiate contracts nor do they require dues. Their ability to advocate depends entirely upon the willingness of workers to request that their employers send some of their wages to the organization. The pledges that workers contribute are voluntary and can end at any time.
In addition, the National Restaurant Association’s legal arm-the Restaurant Law Center-wants the law overturned. This advocacy group represents restaurant owners and management. They have filed a federal lawsuit asking to invalidate the law.
Management believes that giving support to these non-profits, even if the money belongs to the workers, is a violation of the First Amendment rights of the corporations they represent because they view it as “forced speech” that works against their interests.
Although fast-food workers have made many gains in recent years, this hot-button issue is one that both fast-food workers should follow.
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