California voters will decide on fast food industry regulation

LOS ANGELES — A California law creating a board with broad authority to set wages and improve working conditions for fast-food employees has been halted after restaurant and business groups filed enough signatures to put the issue before voters next year.

Officials with the California secretary of state’s office announced Tuesday night that Save Local Restaurants, a broad coalition of small business owners, large corporations, restaurateurs and franchisees, had turned in enough valid signatures to prevent the law from going into effect. .

The group, which has raised millions of dollars to oppose the law, had to submit approximately 623,000 valid voter signatures by an early December deadline to place a question on the 2024 ballot asking California voters if the law should come into force.

Legislation signed in September by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom would establish a 10-member council of union representatives, employers and workers to oversee labor practices in the state’s fast-food industry.

The panel would have the authority to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $22 an hour, well above the state minimum of $15.50. In addition, the council would oversee health, safety and anti-discrimination standards for nearly 550,000 fast food workers statewide.

Opponents, including the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association, argued that the measure, Assembly Bill 257, singled out their industry and, in turn, would burden companies with higher labor costs than consumers would be passed on to higher food prices.

Matt Haller, president of the International Franchise Association, said the bill “was a solution in search of a problem that didn’t exist.”

“Californians have spoken up to prevent this misguided policy from driving up food prices and destroying local businesses and the jobs they create,” Mr. Haller said.

Last year, the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at the University of California, Riverside, published a study that estimated that employers would pass along about one-third of workers’ compensation increases to consumers.

But Mr. Newsom, in signing the measure, said it “gives fast food workers a stronger voice and a seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry.”

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, a strong supporter of the measure, attacked fast food corporations.

“Instead of taking responsibility for ensuring the workers who feed their profits are paid a living wage and work in safe and healthy environments, corporations continue to fuel a race to the bottom in the fast food industry,” said Ms. Henry. “It’s morally wrong and it’s bad business.”

The effort to get the issue before voters follows a playbook used by big corporations to circumvent lawmakers in Sacramento. In 2019, state lawmakers passed a measure that required companies like Uber and Lyft to treat temporary workers as employees. The companies opposed the measure and helped put a proposition on the 2020 ballot that allowed them to treat drivers as independent contractors. The measure passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

The fast food law has been closely watched by industry workers across California, including Angélica Hernández, 49, who has worked at McDonald’s restaurants in the Los Angeles area for 18 years.

“We are not intimidated and we refuse to back down,” Ms. Hernández said. “We cannot afford to wait to raise wages to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living and provide for our families.”

Alison Morantz, a Stanford Law School professor who focuses on employment law, said what made the law unusual was “its holistic approach to addressing a wide range of issues in a traditionally non-union industry, not just low and stagnant wages, but also labor discrimination. and bad security practices.

“If it does go into effect, it will be closely watched and could become a harbinger of similar efforts in other worker-friendly jurisdictions,” Ms. Morantz said.