California’s sweeping new labor law for the fast food industry

California will set new standards for wages and working conditions for fast food restaurants under a bill signed this week by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Assembly Bill 257, which has received strong opposition from fast food companies and business groups, would create a 10-member council to oversee the industry. The commission is also authorized to raise the minimum hourly wage for fast food workers up to $22.

Union officials who supported California’s first-of-its-kind effort are now preparing to push for similar legislation in other states.

“Fast food leaders from states across the country came to California and helped build the movement that was happening for AB 257,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International, which represents nearly two million workers around her. Nation. “I’m pretty sure the fast food workers who’ve been in this decade-long fight with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King will ask lawmakers to propose legislation like 257 in their state.”


Speaking to reporters on Labor Day, shortly after Newsom announced he had signed the law, Henry declined to say what other SEIUs are targeting.

“We’re in talks in several other states, but because we’re at the discussion stage, we’re not in a position to announce where,” she said.

California’s legislation has its roots in the “Fight for 15” movement, launched by labor activists about a decade ago to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Several states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois and parts of New York, have since begun gradually raising their wages to meet this limit. California’s total minimum wage will rise to $15.50 next year.

“Today’s action gives the hard-working fast food industry a stronger voice and a seat at the table for setting fair wages and important health and safety standards across the industry,” Newsom said in a statement.

Business groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have opposed the bill, calling it a “radical proposal for micromanagement of the fast food industry.” Critics predict that it will lead to higher prices – including a $10 Big Mac – as well as increased automation. “Get ready for more robotic booths” State Senator Melissa Melendez, a Republican from Riverside County, tweeted. “Why pay a human to get your order wrong when you can get a working computer and pay less.”

Supporters of the bill say it will significantly improve the lives of Californian fast food workers.

Association member Chris Holden said Association member Chris Holden, “will have an immediate impact on raising the voice of fast food workers by giving them a say in setting workplace standards, or advocating for workplace inequality with regard to pay, safety or harassment issues. or revenge,” a Democrat and a leading supporter in the legislature.

Holden, the former owner of the Subway franchise, said he would have welcomed such a measure when he was in the industry. “I still hope that opposition to the bill will give him a chance to act,” he said during the press conference following Newsom’s signing of the law.

Ken Jacobs, president of the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, noted in a blog last month that about 550,000 Californians work in the fast food sector, most of them earning nearly minimum wage. Jacobs noted that about 60% of the state’s industry workforce is Latino and two-thirds are women.

“Improvements to standards and working conditions in this industry are long overdue, and much needed,” Jacobs added. “Wage theft is rampant, as are health and safety risks. Workplace violence in the industry has been dubbed a ‘crisis,’ and has been exacerbated by restrictions on customers in the COVID era.”

Several sections of the bill, including a provision regarding subpoena power, were stripped from the final version. But one clause still opens the door to “sectoral bargaining,” a form of collective bargaining over wages and other benefits across an entire industry. This practice is common in Europe, but in the United States, most negotiations take place at the individual company level.

Henry, the union leader, said she hopes California’s new law will encourage fast-food chains to start negotiating with workers, even in the absence of similar state legislation.

“I would like to join the fast food leaders across this country in inviting McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King to set up their own tables and not wait for government legislation and create a national table where we can solve problems…directly with the multinationals who make jobs for franchisees and workers possible.