California to vote on the future of fast food

Young woman pays for service through Drive thru
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Although legislation passed last year in California calls for the state to establish a Fast Food Council and set standards for the industry, a referendum blocking the law is expected to appear on ballots next year before it goes into effect.

California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber announced Tuesday that the referendum had been signed by the requisite number of qualified electors.

She explained that the 2022 FAST Act law authorized the creation of the Fast Food Council upon submission of 10,000 fast-food worker signatures. This council would then set standards for minimum wage at fast food restaurants with 100 or more locations nationwide. For 2023, the minimum wage would be up to $22 per hour.

Also included in the legislation is a prohibition of retaliation against fast food workers for making certain complaints.

Per the legislation, the fast food sector “has been rife with abuse, low pay, few benefits, and minimal job security,” for years. In California, it said workers in the industry have been “subject to high rates of employment violations, including wage theft, sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as heightened health and safety risks.”

“If the required number of registered voters sign this petition and it is timely filed, a 2022 law will not take effect unless approved at the next statewide general or special election after November 8, 2022,” said Weber of the referendum.

According to Save Local Restaurants coalition, an organization that worked to gather signatures for the referendum, it will appear on November 2024 ballots.

“Voters will now have the opportunity to protect Californians and local business owners from the damaging impacts of the FAST Act before it goes into effect,” said the group in a Wednesday announcement.

CNN Business reported that Chipotle, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger and KFC-owner Yum! Brands each donated $1 million to Save Local Restaurants, citing the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

In a statement, the coalition said that it views the FAST Act as legislation that “singles out the quick service restaurant industry by establishing an unelected council to control labor policy,” and added that the law could trigger a “sharp increase in food costs and push many Californians, particularly in disenfranchised communities,” out of jobs.

A study from University of California Riverside said that increases in worker compensation would “inevitably translate into higher food prices, fewer of these restaurants, and less employment,” in fast food.

“During the highest inflation in more than four decades, consumers want to know that the restaurant meals they need in their busy lives will continue to be affordable, and that the jobs their communities rely on will still be there,” said the Save Local Restaurants coalition.

It quoted International Franchise Association President and CEO Matt Haller, who said “the FAST Act was a solution in search of a problem that didn’t exist. Fortunately, now more than one million Californians have spoken out to prevent this misguided policy from driving food prices higher and destroying local businesses and the jobs they create.”

On the other hand, Service Employees International Union argued in a Thursday tweet that the “Fast Food Council, which #AB257 would create, is essential to giving fast-food workers a seat at the table so we can speak up to corporations who operate on greed and bullying.”

A 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute think tank found that “consistent positive wage growth” had only occurred in the last 10 of the previous 40 years and a gap between the highest 95th percentile of earners and others continued to grow. It also said “wage growth at the bottom was strongest in states with minimum wage increases in 2019.”

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