NYC vs. Chipotle: A Battle Over Fair Workweek Laws

With the passing of Labor Day weekend, the full political season has begun. Of course, it’s been coming for months but a sure-fire example of rank politicism is a move made by Mayor Bill DeBlasio in New York City.

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) has filed a lawsuit against Chipotle in NYC, claiming the fast casual chain has willfully ignored the two-year-old statute called the Fair Workweek Law. If you don’t already know, Mayor DeBlasio is running for President of the United States. So, by definition this action appears politically motivated, but let’s dig a little deeper before we indict a politician for less than savory behavior -- but don’t worry, we’re gonna light him up before we’re done.

Let’s Take a Look at NYC’s Fair Workweek Law

New York’s Fair Workweek Law was passed specifically to impact the restaurant industry for practices that the city government and advocates like the Restaurant Opportunities Council (ROC) wanted changed.

Now let’s face it, there are plenty of operators that do egregious things when it comes to scheduling. In fact, it should come as no surprise that issues surrounding scheduling always appear in the top reasons that staff exit your employ. Sometimes it’s their own issues, but many times managers writing schedules do things like change them without notice, post schedules with almost no lead time, or schedule tough segments like close-opens on weekends.

ROC and organizations like them have been fighting to force operators to write their schedules farther in advance. They won that statutorily, two years with the Fair Workweek Law. The Fair Workweek Law requires that hourly employees be given a minimum of two weeks advanced notice on their schedules.

Scheduling is a Big Restaurant Issue – for Staff & Managers

Restaurant Staff Schedules is a big issue for operators, managers and restaurant employees.

For those of us accustomed to managing the schedules in a restaurant, that can sound like a daunting task, but this is where we surely need to look inward a bit. Not knowing your schedule in advance is a form of uncertainty that can really be disruptive to a person’s life. In fact, those on your team that need that certainty can be quite strident when their schedules change, hence the number of people that quit when they can’t get their schedule accommodated.

Before we get too indignant, this is probably an improvement we should make to simply address a long standing problem our employees have been telling us about for years. The next objection operators will make is that we work in a dynamic environment that requires the flexibility of short-term schedule windows. To this we say, not so much. This law doesn’t make it illegal to adjust your schedules; it simply requires that you create an environment where employees, and you for that matter, have more stability and certainty about their hours. It’s both, not asking too much and a simple improvement to your scheduling process that will likely help you reduce turnover in the long term.

So, Why is the City Specifically Suing Chipotle?

Chipotle staff

It appears they have received a significant number of complaints to the DCWP. The enforcement agency is currently investigating Chipotle’s 11 Manhattan locations and has received a number of complaints from other boroughs as well.

But here’s the rub, why now?

Sadly, the answer appears transparently political. Transparently because they have had two years to investigate and enforce this law and there appear to be no signs that Chipotle was warned about employee complaints and given a chance to rectify.

Could it be that Mayor DeBlasio has seen his flagging campaign for the Presidency and calculated an attack on an already well known target like Chipotle was solid political calculus? It sure feels that way.

I would imagine that any operators that received complaints from and attention of a city regulatory agency would have responded quickly and assiduously. This has to be especially true of Chipotle given their history over the past several years. Consequently, we are calling out the Mayor and his administration for politicizing this issue instead of simply governing.

Sure, they want their constituents to know they are fighting for them, but many of these operators are constituents too and at minimum deserve the same care and courtesy that workers should be afforded. It’s offensive in the extreme and undermines the confidence that people should have in what motivates their leadership. We would hope that a self-described progressive like Mayor DeBlasio would understand that and not marginalize anyone he represents as he goes about the business of running the country’s largest and most influential city.

To conclude, the rules enumerated by the Fair Workweek Law may be restrictive, but they certainly are attainable with good scheduling practices and some systems to support it. There is no reason for anyone in the industry to ignore the efficacy or responsibility of following them. We just can’t stand that our industry is so regularly politicized and the way that politicization disrespects the hard working folks in our industry, both management and employees, in the process.