The city’s newest labor protection law has resulted in a historic legal victory for two former employees of a Mill Basin sandwich shop.
Cameron Driver and Jamarr Goss were both fired, without warning, from their jobs at the Subway sandwich shop at Kings Plaza Shopping Center after calling out for a shift — but the duo successfully sued using the city’s “Just Cause” laws, which are designed to protect fast-food employees from termination without a justifiable reason.
Now, the sandwich shop must pay out $2,200 in lost wages to both Driver and Goss, along with an additional $1,600 in civil penalties to the city, after the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection took up their case.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the relevant bills into law in January, which were introduced by councilmembers Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams, and stipulate that a restaurant cannot fire or reduce an employee’s average hours by more than 15 percent without “just cause,” and that an employer must use a system of discipline before firing an employee.
The brand-new bills also amended the city’s Fair Workweek Law, which was signed in 2017 and includes a host of protections for fast-food workers, including mandating regular schedules issued two weeks in advance of a shift, increased pay for schedule changes, and prohibiting restaurants from penalizing employees who choose not to work extra shifts.
Driver and Goss had been working with the brand-new franchisee since the spring, Driver told Brooklyn Paper, commuting for more than an hour and a half across two subways and a bus to reach the location from their Manhattan home. They had hopes of securing leadership positions, Driver said, so they dedicated themselves to the job.
“I was hit by the pandemic, so at this point, I’m just trying to get in where I fit in,” he said. “And if that means being a manager at a Subway and whatnot, that’s what I’ve got to do right now to survive.”
The brand-new store was bustling, with a line often out the door, but the work was good.
“It’s a great place to work, Subway really is a great place to work,” Driver said. “It was my sister’s first job back in South Carolina, it was my other best friend’s first job, it’s a really great job. It’s fun, it goes by fast. Besides the employee part, right, it’s that leadership aspect to it too, where we’re not only just putting in what’s asked of us, but doing a little bit extra more to prove that hey, we’re serious about this, we want to do our best.”
In August, the two suddenly needed to take a day off. Since it took so long to get to Mill Basin, Driver said, they each found coworkers to cover their shifts in advance, then texted their manager about the change.
“We actually get a text message that says ‘No, sorry, you got to go to work, if you don’t show, you quit,'” he said.
They tried to work it out with the manager, but to no avail — Driver said they never received further communication from her after that text exchange. Suddenly without both streams of income, they were scrambling. Their roommate was able to help out with rent, but, Driver said, “we were hungry for two weeks because of the [lack of concern] for dedicated employees.”
He remembered seeing social media posts about the just cause law — though it crossed the mayor’s desk at the beginning of the year, it went into effect on July 4, weeks before Driver and Goss were fired. He tweeted at the DCWP about their situation. They heard back from the department and wrote up a longer explanation of what had happened.
Within a few weeks, the department was at work gathering details on the case and reporting back whenever there was a new development. Then, this month, they issued their findings: Driver and Goss had been fired without just cause or “bona fide” economic reason, and had failed to give them a written explanation of their termination, according to the settlement. The department also found that the Subway franchisee did not have the required system of discipline in place.
“We had the compensation not only for wages lost, but the fact that we were just trying to survive, and those damages necessary,” Driver said. “I was just really incredibly grateful for a protection like this, and I think New York is doing the right thing by it.”
Goss said he had been treated more fairly by his fast-food job in South Carolina, but that he wasn’t aware of any worker protections there if anything had gone wrong.
“Back home, they give you the schedule two weeks in advance, if you had emergencies they were easy to talk to about, everything was just completely different from what it is up here, I would say,” he said.
In addition to paying out the lost wages and penalties, the restaurant will be required to develop and implement that disciplinary plan, and receive written notes of understanding from each of their employees by mid-January, and have to train managers and supervisors on Fair Work Week compliance by the end of next month.
“Fast food workers deserve strong protections like the new “just cause” law to ensure they are treated fairly and with dignity,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, in a statement. “I thank the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for holding employers accountable for violating the laws and delivering justice for the affected employees.”
Both Driver and Goss have found new jobs, though they’re still looking for salaried positions, Driver said. His finding out about the just cause law on Twitter was a kind of serendipity, he said — he’s a social media manager hoping to find work in the political sphere.
“I just really want to push the fact that this is something people should take advantage of,” he said. “A lot of the time, we get intimidated by our employers, and this is a resource that is there specifically for the worker. And the service industry really should be no exception to reasonable protocols that other businesses adhere to.”