California Just Passed a Bill That Will Change the Fast Food Industry

AB 257 was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Labor Day.

Everything will change for fast food workers in California after a bill to improve work conditions was passed through the state legislature and then signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 5. According to the Los Angeles Times, Assembly Bill 257, also known as the Fast Food Recovery Act, will create a Fast Food Council that will establish standards for fair pay, hours, and working conditions for the industry.

Businesses have expressed strong objections to the bill—business owners claim it will drive up food prices for customers. But, given the record profits that fast food companies have reported in recent years, another significant reason behind their objections is likely that it will cut into overall profits.

The Fast Food Council will have 10 seats, including four for franchisees and four for fast food workers. It would give workers more representation and voice, the power to set wages, and would be the first council of its kind in the United States. If signed into law by the governor, it could signal a monumental shift in the standard for which fast food employees are treated and compensated. According to CNN, the new minimum wage under the bill could be raised from $15 to $22 an hour.

A study from the UCLA Labor Center found that workers in the fast food industry have experienced an onslaught of unfair labor practices, which were only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Half of the fast-food workers we surveyed also experienced verbal abuse, and over a third experienced violence such as threats, racial slurs, and even assault," Saba Waheed, report author and Research Director at the UCLA Labor Center, said in a statement. "And this is on top of dealing with wage theft, insufficient hours, and other health and safety hazards. The pandemic lifted up how essential this workforce is, and we need to address the deeper structural problems in the sector."

Though the likelihood of the bill being signed was up in the air, Newsom signed the bill into law on Labor Day. The LA Times reports that Newsom's Department of Finance and Department of Industrial Relations released an analysis opposing the measure.

"Today's action gives hardworking fast-food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry," said Newsom, according to CNN. "I'm proud to sign this legislation on Labor Day, when we pay tribute to the workers who keep our state running as we build a stronger, more inclusive economy for all Californians."

Workers at fast food restaurants have expressed support for the bill, which is a chance for workers to have more of a voice regarding their working conditions. As Vox previously noted, the bill's success would likely inspire similar pushes in other states.

"We're not trying to tell these franchisees and corporations how to run their business. We just want them to listen to some of our ideas, that's it," Anneisha Williams, an employee at Jack in the Box, told the LA Times. "We shouldn't have to struggle so much. We want to be treated like we're actually human beings."

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.