'Just cause'? Brad Lander fires just because – New York Daily News – New York Daily News

On the morning of Jan. 1, Brad Lander — who’d bootstrapped progressive accomplishments, including the fair-cause law he’d passed as a councilman protecting fast-food workers from being arbitrarily fired by cruel and capricious bosses, into a citywide position for himself — proclaimed in a beautifully done day-one video:
“If we value a fair economy, then we must ensure that people whose work keeps our city and our economy going get the dignity [and] pay…they need to care for themselves and their families,” said the newly sworn-in city controller, and “ensure that we are accounting for our shared values.”
On the morning of Nov. 3, on day 297, Lander and his “shared values” were nowhere to be seen as two dedicated employees of the comptroller’s office — Susan Watts, the director of visual content and before that a brilliant photographer at The News for a quarter century, and Alex Montoya Wunrow, the director of digital content — arrived at a weirdly empty office on Centre St. and received emails telling them to go upstairs to HR.
When they separately did so, Watts and Wunrow, who’d both been hired by Lander’s predecessor, were each told that they were out, effective immediately, and escorted back to their desks to box up their things and leave.
Watts told me days later she had no idea this was coming, having just exchanged pleasantries with Lander while photographing him at a rally.
She hadn’t been fired for cause, but just because, HR told her (and the same for Wunrow) — with no warning and no severance besides pay for unused vacation days.
Happy holidays!
More than a week later, Lander’s said nothing publicly or to most of his staff about the firings. He’s away now, at the Somos political conference in Puerto Rico.
Brad Lander stands on the cupola of the David N. Dinkins Municipal Building after being sworn in as the 45th Comptroller of the City of New York for his term beginning on January 1, 2022. (Susan Watts/Office of New York City Comptroller)
It all seems almost unbelievably nasty and stupid and off-brand, so I reached out to Lander to ask for context and got a text back an hour later from communications director Naomi Dann, who said, in full, “we do not comment on personnel matters.”
Lots of other people in the comptroller’s office are commenting, however.
“It’s shocking for myself and a lot of my colleagues hired under Scott (Stringer), John (Liu), Bill (Thompson),” said one staffer, referring to the previous three comptrollers and speaking anonymously for obvious reasons. “None of them would see this kind of separation for individuals who are hard-working and doing a good job,” but rather gave such workers time to make their own dignified exits.
The staffer continued: “Those of us who are political appointees understand we are employed at-will, we agree to that when we sign up for these jobs. What we do not agree to is, 10 months in, being told that a reshuffling is in order and your services are no longer needed.”
Indeed, “it’s so inconsistent with who I thought Lander is,” Watts said of the boss she’d spent 10 months working closely with and promoting before he outsourced her firing to HR. “I thought this guy walked the walk.”
(Then again, he doesn’t always drive the drive: This is the same Lander who wrote the Reckless Driver Accountability Act even as he was racking up his own speeding violations, finally conceding that “Drivers should slow down, I should slow down.”)
Watts continued: “How can you rally for workers’ rights and talk about how people are pinching pennies with inflation but lay off a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter and a millennial who has to pay the rent? How can you preach about these things on the outside and then completely disregard them on the inside?”
Like Lander says, “no one should be fired on a whim.” And “this is just basic common sense. If there’s not a problem, you get to keep working.”
The day after Lander — a famously hands-on boss — terminated Watts and Wunrow, a senior staffer from his campaign tweeted: “With Twitter’s layoffs in the news, it’s worth noting that unlike many countries, the US has no broad protections against unjust or arbitrary firings. Here in NYC, workers (even at “progressive” workplaces) are fired every day without [being] given any reason at all.”
That was a clear shot at the old boss who isn’t living up to the brand he’s built for himself.
“As I took my oath of office to be your Comptroller, I pledged to be NYC’s ‘Chief Accountability Officer,’” Lander said in his very first tweet from the @NYCComptroller official account, promoting that inspirational video Watts had made promoting him.
“We talk about accounting as though it’s values-free — we ask, do the numbers add up? The truth is: it’s all about what we value.”
The truth is that the comptroller didn’t give his own workers the dignity he says should be protected under the law.
Brad Lander owes a public accounting about why the books aren’t balanced between his stated values and his actions.
Siegel (harrysiegel@gmail.com) is an editor at The City and a columnist for the Daily News.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News


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