On Labor Day, Governor Gavin Newson signed historic bill, AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act, into law.
The law will establish a 10-member council with four seats held by representatives of franchisers and fast food franchisees, four seats held by representatives and advocates of fast food workers, and two seats held by representatives of the Department of Relations. Industries and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. The Fast Food Council could begin setting hourly wages of up to $22 per hour by 2023, which would increase with the consumer price index or up to 3.5% per year.
The board would “promulgate minimum standards” for wages, hours and working conditions for fast-food restaurants where predominantly black and Latino workers are largely unorganized and establish protections for victimized workers of retaliation. The standards set by the council would apply to any chain in California that has at least 100 stores nationwide with a common brand.
When AB 257 made its way through the state legislature, the restaurant industry pledged to keep it from becoming law.
When the restaurant industry lost its battle, Protect Neighborhood Restaurants, a restaurant industry coalition backed by global corporations like McDonalds, filed for a referendum on Wednesday. If the restaurant coalition collects enough signatures, the new law would be suspended until the fall of 2024, when it would be passed by California voters.
On the same day the restaurant industry filed the referendum request, Representative Ro Khanna and movement leaders from organizations such as the NAACP, the National Women’s Law Center and the Poor People’s Campaign held a press conference castigating the fast food industry’s referendum for seeking to spend big to silence black and Latino workers.
With more than 550,000 workers at more than 30,000 locations, California’s fast food industry stands out as one of the largest and fastest growing low-wage workforces in the world. ‘State. California’s fast food workforce is nearly 80% people of color, more than 60% Latinos and two-thirds women.
A recent study by Harvard and the University of California, San Francisco found that fast-food workers across the state are paid $3 less per hour than comparable workers in the service industry.
California fast food workers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers and more likely to rely on public assistance. Two-thirds of California fast food workers were on public assistance or had a family member who was, with nearly one in three on SNAP due to food insecurity, amounting to 4 billion dollars in statewide spending.
In a recent survey of California fast food workers, an astonishing 85% of respondents said they had experienced wage theft.
AB 257 seeks to give workers a voice at work and address the wage theft, violence, health and safety concerns and sexual harassment that plague the industry.
“We’re not trying to tell these franchisees and companies how to run their business. We just want them to listen to some of our ideas, that’s all,” said Anneisha Williams.
Williams filed a complaint with the Labor Board when she was not given additional paid COVID sick leave when she took time off from work to care for her young son who contracted COVID.
“We shouldn’t have to struggle so much,” she said. “We want to be treated as if we were real human beings.”
The creation of a council of fast food workers is based on well-established principles of law, write Berkeley law professors Catherine Fisk and Amy Reavis.
“It’s akin to existing named bodies, such as the California Energy Commission and the California Coastal Commission, which are designed to tackle tough problems and ensure stakeholder input,” they wrote.
In many European countries, trade unions negotiate labor standards that apply to workers in an entire industry or sector, not just one company. In 2015, then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo convened a wage commission to assess compensation in the state’s fast food industry. This led to an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers in New York, phased over six years. In 2018, Seattle created a labor standards council to make recommendations for domestic workers, and Detroit followed suit with a multi-sector council in 2021.
In a Forbes article titled “Why AB 257 Could Change the Lives of California’s Fast Food Workers,” Errol Schweizer, Former Grocery Vice President for Whole Foods, says, “AB257 is a positive step toward standardizing decent wages, dignity and worker power in a hugely popular and profitable industry, and a good step towards paying off society’s debt to fast food workers.
It is disappointing that the restaurant industry intends to stop a bill that could change the lives of fast food workers in California by giving them a seat at the table.
San Jose Spotlight columnist Ruth Silver Taube is the supervising attorney for the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center’s Workers’ Rights Clinic, the supervising attorney for the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Legal Advice Line of Santa Clara County and a member of Santa Clara County Fair Workplace. Collaborative. His columns appear every second Thursday of the month. Contact her at [email protected].