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Attorney General Bonta Joins Multistate Coalition in Support of New York City’s Protections for Fast Food Workers

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of the City of New York’s Wrongful Discharge Law, which, among other things, protects fast food workers from being fired without just cause. Building on previous efforts to support fast food workers, New York’s law aims to protect fast food employees from arbitrary and unjust discharge, which can disrupt their livelihoods and lead to economic insecurity. Importantly, the law is only applicable to employers who own or operate 30 or more fast food businesses nationwide. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the coalition highlights state and local government efforts to address unjust working conditions in the fast food industry, makes it clear that New York City’s ordinance conforms with federal law, and urges the appellate court to uphold the district court’s decision.

“Fast food employees are among of the lowest paid workers in the country,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Like many Americans, they are struggling to support their families, keep up with the rent, and cover rising food costs. They deserve support and New York’s protections against unfair employment practices in the fast food industry are a critical piece of the puzzle. Fear of being let go without justification and not knowing if the next paycheck might suddenly disappear for no reason is not something workers should have to worry about when they have families depending on them at home. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the rights of workers in our state and all across the country. We urge the appellate court to uphold New York’s Wrongful Discharge Law, protecting fast food workers against abuse.”

In 2017, New York City enacted the Fair Work Practices Law, a series of ordinances aimed at expanding wage and hour and other labor protections for fast food employees. Building on the success of those efforts, the city subsequently enacted the Wrongful Discharge Law in 2021 to provide additional protections for fast food workers, many of whom were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In passing the law, New York’s City Council’s committee report noted that complaints of wrongful discharge are common in the fast food industry, which employs more than 67,000 people at more than 3,000 establishments in the city. Of those employees, approximately two-thirds are women, two-thirds are immigrants, and 88% are people of color. These workers are among the lowest paid in the country and have historically faced declining wages and unstable working schedules. Accordingly, the Wrongful Discharge Law seeks to protect workers against financial hardship and pervasive mistreatment by barring certain employers from discharging a fast food employee who has completed probation except for just cause or a bona fide economic reason. A “discharge” includes any cessation of employment, including not only termination, but also a reduction in hours of at least 15%.

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts:

  • The National Labor Relations Act does not preempt New York City’s Wrongful Discharge Law, which establishes lawful minimum labor standards;
  • The Wrongful Discharge Law does not violate the dormant Commerce Clause; and
  • The appellate court should affirm the district court’s decision upholding the Wrongful Discharge Law.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.