Court freezes california fast food law

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge has paused a new California law that would create a state-appointed board to negotiate wages and hours in the fast food industry. AB 257, also known as the Rapid Refund Act or the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 5, 2022, and was scheduled to go into effect January 1.

The court order of December 30, 2022 suspended enforcement of the law until the court hears the case and decides whether to issue a preliminary injunction. A hearing is scheduled for January 13. If the court decides that the law can move forward, AB 257 may become effective.

A coalition of restaurant and business groups are backing efforts to repeal the law through a referendum on the California ballot in November 2024. If the referendum is eligible for the ballot, the Rapid Recovery Act will be blocked until voters pass it. The deadline for election authorities to verify a sample of signatures is January 25.

“Looking at my crystal ball, I think there’s a good chance the referendum will be eligible for a 2024 ballot, thus pausing enforcement of the law. This will be a very hard-fought ballot initiative with labor on the one hand and working on it,” said Robert Rodriguez, an attorney at Ogletree Deakins in Sacramento “Given the current inflationary climate, California voters may be receptive to the argument that the FAST Act will significantly increase costs and prices.”

SEIU California, a group of local unions, filed complaints with California Attorney General Rob Ponta and California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, alleging that signatures supporting the referendum were fraudulently obtained. The complaints alleged that the petition’s administrators misled voters into believing that the petition would raise the minimum wage for fast food workers.

Opponents of the law, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, and the International Franchise Association, have argued that the law unfairly singled out the fast food industry and would increase labor costs and thus raise food prices.

“We believe voters need to have a say when laws like the FAST Act break the restaurant industry and harm the people who make the restaurant business great,” said Michelle Korsmo, president of the National Restaurant Association.

Legal provisions

The law will apply to fast food and fast food restaurants in California with more than 100 locations nationwide that share a common brand or feature standardized options for decoration, marketing, packaging products and services. Bakery is not included.

The law will create a 10-member council to set safety standards and working conditions. The board could increase the state minimum wage to $22 an hour in 2023 and by up to 3.5 percent annually thereafter. It can also set minimum standards for maximum working hours, working conditions and workplace security. The board may not mandate paid sick leave or vacation leave, and it cannot make regulations regarding predictive scheduling.

Council recommendations will be sent to the California legislature and automatically become effective, unless lawmakers enact legislation preventing them from becoming effective.

Among the board members:

  • One representative from the state industrial relations department.
  • Representatives of two fast food restaurant franchisees.
  • Representatives of two fast food restaurant franchisees.
  • Two representatives of fast food restaurant employees.
  • Two representatives advocate for fast food restaurant employees.

The law allows workers to sue companies for firing, discriminating against, or retaliating against them for exercising their FAST rights.

working conditions

A 2022 study from the University of California, Los Angeles Work Center found that fast food workers in Los Angeles County faced disproportionately high rates of injuries, workplace violence, harassment, retaliation, and wage theft. Fifty-eight percent of fast food workers reported health and safety risks, such as insufficient staff to handle workloads, unsafe floors, broken equipment, and pressure to work quickly. Forty-three percent have suffered a workplace injury or illness, such as burns, cuts, and strain from lifting or assault. Half of those working in the fast food business said they had experienced verbal abuse, while 13 percent had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Others said they experienced threats (25 percent), racial slurs (24 percent), assaults (10 percent) and burglary (4 percent).

“The pandemic has made this workforce even more important, and we need to address the deeper structural problems in this sector,” said Saba Wahid, director of research at the UCLA Job Center.