California fast food industry calls for referendum on new labor legislation | US unions

The fast food industry is seeking to reverse one of the most significant employment gains in modern American history by trying to repeal a new California law that would establish an industry council for the sector on wage standards and other regulations, including safety.

The Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, AB 257, was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on September 5 in what is seen as a huge boost for an American labor movement seeking to capitalize on a wave of union campaigning.

The act paves the way for a statewide fast-food sector board that includes workers, state regulators, franchisors and parent companies to set wage standards and other regulations for the industry in the state.

There are about 500,000 workers in the California fast food industry who will be represented by law. It also provides a pathway for local municipalities to set up their own similar boards that would oversee the industry and report to the state assembly. The law applies only to fast food companies that have at least 100 retail locations across the country under a co-brand.

The law is the first of its kind in the United States, with workers in other states pushing to pass similar legislation, such as New York nail salon workers.

Fast food workers have long reported widespread issues of violence at work, sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation for reporting abuse or regulation, wage theft, and poor wages. The new law was touted as a way to begin addressing these issues that run rampant in the industry. Fast food workers around California staged more than 300 strikes last year to rally support in favor of the legislation.

as workers now Organize to collect signatures To create the councils, the fast food industry is mobilizing to try to repeal the law, claiming that it will hurt business and lead to a 20% increase in menu prices due to potential wage increases to as much as $22 an hour in 2023. The industry also claims that the law will not strengthen protections Laborers.

Cars wait in line to drive at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Francisco, California. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

Opponents also claimed that the law could lead to restaurant closures and discourage franchisees from opening new locations in California.

The National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association created a coalition of industry groups to support a statewide voter referendum initiative to repeal the law, and warned that other states could follow suit in passing similar laws. Major fast food companies spent at least $1 million to squeeze the bill between June 2021 and June 2022.

The law is set to enter into force on January 1, 2023, but could be delayed if a vote in the referendum is allowed to move forward. If the referendum request is accepted by the California attorney general, groups supporting the referendum will have until April 1, 2023 to collect approximately 623,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 state ballot.

During a press call, workers and labor leaders criticized the referendum proposal as a way to silence workers and an attempt by fast food companies to use their wealth to subvert democracy.

“We will continue to organize to fight the opposition,” said Lizette Aguilar, who has worked at McDonald’s in Los Angeles, California, for nearly 20 years. “We will continue to fight. We have a lot of opposition, but we have to keep showing that we want our union.”

Other workers described their own experiences.

Alondra Hernandez helped organize a strike at Burger King where she works in Oakland, California, after experiencing several instances of violence from clients while working. “There has never been a day when I came home and didn’t admit to having a violence problem at work,” Hernandez said.

She explained that she and her co-workers began organizing for better security measures after an incident when a customer came into the store from the car with their food, threw a burger in the face of a co-worker while demanding a refund and smashed a glass screen that cut the face of one of her supervisors.

“With AB 257, there will be a possibility where we will have training on how to deal with such issues, to improve inspections of working conditions in stores and help improve our wages,” Hernandez said. I think with this council, government representatives, workers and industry representatives, the representation is fair. One team will not win everything, but we will have stability.”

Defenders of the bill noted that its passage is an important step toward eventual unionization by fast-food workers, a task that has eluded workers due to high worker turnover, franchising, and the widespread retaliation that workers face across the industry. Labor unions currently represent less than 2% of workers in the food service and drinking place industry.

Aguilar said she led her co-workers on several strikes due to unsafe working conditions for Covid-19 in 2020, and was fired along with other workers in retaliation. The state of California eventually fined the franchisor and ordered the reinstatement of workers with late pay in 2021.

“This law means a lot,” Aguilar said. “It is a great victory. Fast food workers have been through a lot of work. AB 257 will provide a lot of benefits to workers, such as helping to end discrimination, violence at work and the injustice of wage theft. Many of us have been victims of wage theft.”

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