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Chamber testifies against City Council legislation that threatens to upend "at-will" employment in New York City

Thursday, February 13, 2020


Chamber testifies against City Council legislation that threatens to upend

Today, Chamber president and CEO Jessica Walker testified before the City Council's Civil Service and Labor Committee to oppose legislation that would drastically restrict "at-will" employment in New York City. Currently the bills target fast food chains, but one of the lead sponsors indicated he would like to expand the legislation to include all businesses in the city.

 

 

TESTIMONY BEFORE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL

COMMITTEE ON CIVIL SERVICE AND LABOR

 

JESSICA WALKER

PRESIDENT & CEO

 

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2020

 

 

Good afternoon. My name is Jessica Walker and I am the President and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce which represents the business community across the borough. As an organization we work to advance economic empowerment, particularly for the courageous entrepreneurs and business owners who put everything on the line to follow their creative ambitions, pursue financial freedom and "spread the love" by employing others. Indeed, their success is integral to maintaining New York City's strong economy.

 

We strongly oppose Intros. 1396 and 1415. The legislation is singling out and needlessly picking on one industry, which is bad enough. But what’s more is that what you are suggesting here is terrifying for small businesses who fear they may be the next targets of an expanded version of this dangerous legislation.

 

First of all, I want it to be stated very clearly that employers never want to eliminate jobs. There is no joy derived from laying off employees. I say that because these bills seem premised on the notion that employers everywhere are just firing people or laying them off with no strategic thought about the health of their business or the possible impact it might pose on the employee. That is false. It is never fun.

 

But the reality is that sometimes a business has to make these tough decisions in order to thrive. Tying an employer’s hand here could unfairly hurt the business.

 

The process laid out in Intro 1396 does just that. It puts the onus on an employer to prove that layoffs are for “bona fide” economic reasons, as narrowly defined in the bill. If they do lay people off it must be done by seniority even if that means they will lose their best employees. They may be forced to go to arbitration which is a time-killer and takes them away from their business. And the bill opens them up to lawsuits.

 

Intro 1415 is equally unworkable. It prohibits employee termination for reasons other than “just cause.” It forces businesses to use a confusing disciplinary process to determine what rises to the level of their definition of “just cause.” Once again, employers may find themselves in timely arbitration or court as a result of this law.

 

There are legitimate reasons for an employee’s termination other than “bona fide” economic reasons or “just cause” as narrowly defined in this legislation.

 

Let me give you an example: When a new member of the City Council takes office they rarely retain all of the staff of their predecessor. Why? It’s hardly ever about economics or just cause. And those holdover employees certainly have more seniority than anyone new that’s brought in. Would you want to spend your precious time sitting in arbitration for days in order to justify why you need to make staff changes? No, you want the best team surrounding you to help you move forward. And there is some subjectivity in that as an employer because you have a certain vision for what you want your workplace to feel like, you want all employees to get along and work well together, you want your employees to be onboard with your agenda, you may want greater strength in certain skill sets that are lacking, etc.

 

Eroding any employer’s ability to make these strategic staffing decisions is simply wrong. And it could be extremely damaging to a business (e.g., suppresses revenue if I can’t hire a better salesperson to replace the current salesperson who has mediocre skills; takes precious time away from the business to go to arbitration or court; could suppress morale and productivity in the workplace if an unruly employee is allowed to stay on while I have to spend months in arbitration; may force me to layoff someone I don’t want to simply because of seniority).

 

This would be tying an employer’s hand and taking away the critical (albeit hard) choices that must be made to keep a business viable, which is already not an easy thing to do.

 

Of course, all employers must adhere to anti-discrimination laws already in place that prohibit wrongful termination on the basis of any protected class or as retaliation.

 

Moreover, these bills could have a detrimental impact on employees. If it becomes next to impossible to discharge employees then the hiring process will become that much more rigorous. Employers will take fewer chances on candidates who are untested, come unrecommended or have even a hint of red flags, which will further shutout a whole swath of people who don’t have a long work history and are simply trying to get their foot in the door to prove themselves. It would take us in the wrong direction.

 

For these reasons, we urge the Council to halt these bills. Thank you.