California Passes Historic Fast Food Worker Bill. Will Newsom Sign It?

In the face of fierce corporate opposition, the California Senate on Monday passed a landmark bill aimed at giving the state’s roughly 550,000 fast food workers a say over their working conditions, hours, and wages in an industry rife with abuse.

If Democratic Governor. The Fast Food Recovery Act (Gavin Newsom) will be signed into law by Gavin NewsomAB 257California would become the first state in the United States to establish a council charged with setting industry-wide standards for the fast food industry. The council is composed of 10 members. would includeWorkers and worker advocates, business representatives, and state officials.

Newsom has not yet indicated whether he will sign it, but his Department of Finance opposed the legislation in a recent analysis, claiming it “could lead to a fragmented regulatory and legal environment for employers and raise long-term costs across industries.”

Union leaders strongly disagree. Mary Kay Henry, international president for the Service Employees International Union said the measure “will be the most important piece of labor law to pass in decades” if it’s enacted.

“It will give 550,000 fast food workers a chance to sit down with government and their employers to decide wages and working conditions,” said Henry. “I cannot overstate how significant this is. It sets the standard for what states and cities around the country should be doing to support workers.”

The bill, which is the result of tireless grassroots organizing across the state, was predictable encountered massive, coordinated opposition from the fast food industry and the state’s restaurant sector more broadly.

In a statement Monday, the California Chamber of Commerce complained that the bill’s definition of “fast food restaurant” is “so broad that it will encapsulate far more than what we think of as traditional fast food establishments and is vague in differentiating between to-go service, counter service, and traditional sit-down restaurants.”

As the Los Angeles Times reportedThe corporate lobbying succeeded at weakening parts of the historic legislation.

One of the major changes was the elimination of a joint liability clause, which would have made a corporate franchisor liable for violations of labor law by its franchisees. This provision was opposed by opponents because it would discourage franchising in the state.

Another reduces both the size of the governing body and the number allocated to state regulators (originally seven of 13 spots). The revised 10-person council includes four seats held by fast-food franchiser and franchisee representatives and four seats held by fast-food worker representatives and advocates…

The bill stipulates that legislators will be able to review and potentially block any standards proposed by the council. In addition, the council has a sunset date of six years to allow legislators to assess its effectiveness.

The new bill also restricts the minimum wage to $22 an hr in 2023.

Proponents of this measure stress that it is a nod towards sectoral bargainingThis is where employees and managers negotiate pay, benefits and other workplace issues on an industry-wide basis, rather than company-by-company.

“Under U.S. law, most workers have the right on paper to unionize and collectively bargain with their boss if a majority of their co-workers are on board. In practice, workers in industries like fast food have found that very difficult, and unionization has been plummeting for decades,” explains Bloomberg labor reporter Josh Eidelson.

“In fast food,” Eidelson continues, “SEIU is advocating state-level sectoral bargaining as an alternate form of collective bargaining, but also as a step towards winning unionization, federal labor law changes, and those long-sought nationwide agreements with the top chains.”

Recent studies and survey data help explain why worker advocates and unions are focusing their attention on California’s huge fast food industry.

An analysisThe University of California, Berkeley and UCLA published a January study that found nearly two-thirds of fastfood workers in Los Angeles County had suffered wage theft.

Fight for $15 in May released polling data showing that 85% of California fast food workers surveyed said they’ve been victim to “at least one form of wage theft.”

Also, earlier this month, Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco observed that a joint study that California fast food workers “earn 85 cents on the dollar compared with their counterparts in other service sector jobs and would have to work six extra hours each week just to reach parity with the average earnings of other service sector workers.”

“Compared with other service sector workers,” the study concludes, “California fast food workers stand out with the lowest hourly wages and the least predictable work schedules. These low wages leave fast food workers far below the minimum living wage to meet basic needs for a single adult.”