The fast food industry is seeking to reverse one of the biggest labor victories in recent US history by trying to scrap a new law in California that will establish an industry council for the sector on standards wages 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, which is seen as a huge boost for a US labor movement seeking to leverage a wave of organizing campaigns.
The law paves the way for a statewide fast food industry council that includes workers, state regulators, franchises and their parent companies to set wage standards and other regulations for industry in the state.
There are approximately 500,000 workers in the fast food industry in California who will be represented under the law. This too provides a pathway for local municipalities to create their own similar councils overseeing the industry and reporting to the state council. The law only applies to fast food companies with at least 100 outlets nationwide under a common 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 nail salon workers in New York.
Fast food workers have long reported widespread problems with workplace violencesexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation for reporting abuse or for organizing, wage theft and poverty wages. The new law was vaunted as a way to begin to address these issues plaguing the industry. Fast food workers in California organized more than 300 strikes last year to rally support for the bill.
As the workers are now organize to collect signatures to create the councils, the fast food industry is mobilizing in an attempt to overturn the law, affirming it will hurt businesses and lead to a 20% increase in menu prices due to possible wage increases to $22 an hour in 2023. The industry also says the law will not strengthen worker protections .
Opponents also claims the law could cause restaurants to close and deter franchise owners from opening new establishments in California.
The National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association have established a coalition of industry groups to support a statewide electoral referendum initiative to strike down the law and warned that other states may follow suit by passing similar laws. Big fast food companies spent at least $1 million lobbying against the bill between June 2021 and June 2022.
The law is expected to come into force on January 1, 2023, but could be delayed whether a referendum vote is allowed to go ahead. If the referendum request is accepted by the California Attorney General, groups supporting the referendum would have until April 1, 2023 to collect approximately 623,000 signatures from valid voters to qualify for the 2024 ballot.
During press callworkers and union 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 Lizzet Aguilar, who has worked at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, Calif., for nearly 20 years. “We will continue to fight. We have a lot of opposition, but we must continue to show that we want our union.
Other workers described their own experiences.
Alondra Hernandez helped organize a strike at the Burger King where she works in Oakland, California, after she suffered several instances of violence from customers while on the job. “There hasn’t been a day that I’ve come home and didn’t acknowledge that a violent issue has happened at work,” Hernandez said.
She explained that she and her colleagues began to organize for better safety measures after an incident when a customer entered the store from the drive-thru with their food, threw a hamburger in the face of a colleague while demanding a refund and smashed a Plexiglas screen that cut into the face of one of his supervisors.
“With AB 257, there will be the potential where we will have training on how to handle issues like these, improve inspections of working conditions in stores and help improve our wages,” said Hernandez said. “I believe with this council, government officials, labor and industry representatives, that representation is fair. No team is going to win everything, but we will have stability.
Supporters of the bill have Noted its passage is an important step towards fast food workers eventually organizing a union, a task that has eluded workers due to high turnoverfranchising and the widespread retaliation workers face across the industry. Less than 2% workers in the restaurant industry and pubs are currently represented by trade unions.
Aguilar said she led her colleagues in several strikes against dangerous Covid-19 working conditions in 2020, and that she, along with other workers, was fired in retaliation. the state of california finally delivered fined the franchise owner and ordered the reinstatement of workers with back wages in 2021.
“This law means a lot,” Aguilar said. “It’s a big win. Fast food workers have been through a lot on the job. AB 257 is going to have a lot of benefits for workers, like helping to end discrimination, workplace violence, and the injustice of wage theft. Many of us have been victims of wage theft.