California Passes Fast Food Workers Bill

Over the opposition of restaurant owners who worry it will drive up prices for consumers, California lawmakers on Monday adopted a national leading proposal that would give more than half a million fast food employees more power and protections.

The bill would create a new 10-member Fast Food Council with equal numbers of workers’ delegates and employers’ representatives, together with two state officials, authorized to set minimum standards for salaries, hours and working conditions in California.

The state minimum wage is $15.50 per hour, but a late amendment would cap any increase for fast food employees at chains with more than 100 locations at $22 per hour next year, with cost of living adjustments thereafter.

California Passes Fast Food Workers Bill
California Passes Fast Food Workers Bill

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, called the event “a watershed moment” and remarked, “We made history tonight.”

“This legislation is a major step forward for workers in California and all throughout the country,” she said as campaigners offered it as a model for other states.

There were not enough yes votes in the Senate to prevent passage of the bill, and it passed with a narrow 21-12 margin despite strong opposition from both major parties. The bill now moves to the Assembly for consideration before the legislative session closes on Wednesday. One earlier, wider version of the law was narrowly passed by the Assembly.

Republicans were against the bill, but three Democrats did as well, and a few others didn’t bother to vote.

Democratic Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who pushed the bill through the Senate, praised it as “creative” and “bringing industry and labor together at the table.” This, she said, was a “really, very well-balanced manner of addressing both the employers, the franchisees, and the workers.”

Almost every Republican senator spoke out against it, and that includes Republican nominee for governor in November, Senator Brian Dahle.

I see this as a stepping stone toward eventually unionizing all of these employees. Ultimately, it will increase the price of the goods they sell,” Dahle predicted. Later, he clarified, “There are absolutely no slaves employed by businesses in the state of California, period.” If you’re unhappy with your employment or your employer, you’re free to leave at any time.

Restaurant and franchise owners and operators hired the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at the University of California to assess the impact of the proposed legislation on consumer prices. The administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom is also worried that the bill will lead to “a fragmented regulatory and legal environment.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna has said he hopes the debate will inspire similar initiatives abroad, and it has garnered attention from people all over the country.

According to labor law specialist Kate Andrias of Columbia Law School, this is “one of the most significant pieces of employment legislation passed in a decade.” She hailed it as “an enormous advance for some of the most vulnerable workers in the country, giving them a collective voice in their working conditions.”

Andrias argued that the law would “operate in combination with traditional union organization to provide more workers a say in their working circumstances” and that it was born out of a union effort to increase the minimum wage.

Chief Executive Officer of the International Franchise Association, Matthew Haller, responded that the bill “is a discriminatory move meant to target the franchise business model to strengthen union ranks.”

On Monday, groups representing Asian, Black, and LGBTQ company owners and employees argued in a letter to senators that the bill would negatively impact their communities.