California voters will have the final say on whether the state can create a council to set wages and working conditions for more than half a million fast food workers.
An industry-backed referendum officially qualified for the 2024 ballot Tuesday night after the Secretary of State’s office announced it had received enough valid signatures. The approval constitutes a costly showdown between labor advocates and the fast food industry, with spending potentially running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The coalition that led the referendum campaign, Save Local Restaurants, argued that council oversight would place an undue burden on local franchisees and increase the cost of food, assertions workers reject. The group raised more than $13 million between January and September last year for its campaign against the council.
“The FAST Act was a solution to look for a problem that didn’t exist,” Matt Haller, president of the International Franchise Association, said in a statement Tuesday.
The Save Local Restaurants Coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
“We can’t wait another two years to get the seat at the table that we’ve already won,” McDonald’s Los Angeles employee Angelica Hernandez said in a statement Tuesday night. “Until we get it, we refuse to back down from our fight.”
The first board in the country would regulate any restaurant chain with at least 100 locations in the United States and could set minimum wages at $22 an hour. The council would give workers like Hernandez a voice in regulating their industry. Employees and labor advocates have repeatedly accused fast food companies like McDonald’s of enabling sexual harassment and wage theft, among other workplace abuses.
With the referendum on the ballot, fast food workers will have to wait until November 5, 2024 to see if they will get the workplace increases and protections they have fought for over the past two years since the bill, known as AB 257 or the Payback Act, was introduced. Rapid for the first time by then-Sen. Lorena Gonzalez.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law on Labor Day last year. But the next day, the opponents petitioned for the referendum. Paid signature collectors have collected over 1 million signatures from California, about 77% of which were deemed valid by county clerks and state registrars.
Advocates say the referendum battle will not stop them from fighting for better treatment of fast food workers.
“Despite the fast-food companies’ efforts to discredit the referendum process, we know California voters see their tricks,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Federation, said in a statement.
“There is no corporation more powerful than half a million workers coming together to claim a seat at the table.”
This story was originally published Jan 24, 2023 6:19 PM.
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Maya Miller writes about economic mobility and affordability for the Capitol Office in Sacramento B.C. She previously covered business for the Seattle Times and holds a degree in public policy from Duke University.