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Ithaca explores ‘just cause’ employment law in new working group

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  • Staff Report 

The City of Ithaca is contemplating a significant shift in employment law, moving towards requiring a “just cause” for firing employees, a move that could position Ithaca as the first city in New York State to apply such legislation across all workers. This initiative, spearheaded by progressive activists and council members including Alderpersons Kayla Matos and Phoebe Brown, aims to abolish the current “at-will” employment standard. The proposal, backed by the Tompkins County Working Families Party and the Tompkins County Workers Center, is set for review by a newly formed working group announced by Mayor Robert Cantelmo.

The draft of the Downtown Plan, aiming for comprehensive community improvement, has sparked a broad coalition of support. This proposal is part of a continued effort to enhance labor protections within the city, aligning with the city’s legal capabilities under federal and New York state law. The move has attracted attention from academic experts and legal professionals who compare it to similar legislation upheld in New York City, suggesting that Ithaca’s approach could face legal challenges yet stands on firm precedent.

The working group’s formation marks a critical step towards refining the proposal, with plans for extensive public outreach to ensure the legislation is well-rounded and enforceable. The Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, representing around 700 members, has also begun reviewing the proposal, emphasizing the importance of stakeholder feedback. This development reflects a growing trend towards strengthening worker protections, as Ithaca officials and community advocates work collaboratively to navigate the proposal’s complexities and potential impacts on local employment practices.