Opponents of a law aimed at boosting wages and strengthening protections for California’s 550,000 fast-food workers say they’ve gathered enough signatures for a referendum that will put AB 257 on hold until the November 2024 ballot when voters can decide the outcome.

They’re hoping the law, the FAST Recovery Act, will be overturned.

Assembly Bill 257 was set to take effect Jan. 1, creating a 10-person, state-run council to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for an industry made up of mostly low-earning Black and Latino employees.

The measure was signed into law Sept. 5 by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Soon after, the Save Local Restaurants coalition — led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association — attacked the legislation.

The law will fuel higher consumer prices and “is bad for California and bad for America,” the chamber said in a statement issued Monday, Dec. 5. “It will stifle job growth and increase quick-service prices an estimated 20% at a time when families are facing record-high inflation.”

The chamber said more than 1 million voter signatures have been gathered for the referendum — far outpacing the 623,000 needed by the Sunday, Dec. 4 deadline. If the California Secretary of State verifies enough signatures, implementation of the law will be on hold until after the November 2024 vote.

Leaders from the SEIU California union, along with supporters and fast-food workers denounced the move in a press call Monday, saying California’s referendum process is confusing and frequently subject to abuse.

Trent Lange, executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign, a nonpartisan organization focused on campaign finance reform, transparency and fair elections, said corporations and billionaires can buy their way onto the ballot by using unlimited amounts of money.

Lange said they hire “mercenary signature-gathering firms and circulators,” including many from out of state, and spend tens of millions of dollars to confuse voters into voting their way.

The Save Local Restaurants referendum, he said, is no different.

“This is yet another example of the abuse of referendums by massive corporations and other wealthy interests to use unlimited funds to overturn the will of the legislature,” Lange said. “It illustrates the clear need for reform of the referendum initiative process.”

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, echoed Lange’s view.

“This is not about local restaurants — this is a corporate power grab,” she said. “It is abhorrent that these corporations have already spent millions of dollars in an attempt to deliberately mislead California voters and stamp out the progress fast-food workers have won.”

Henry said fast-food giants, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks are undermining a movement designed to help struggling, low-wage fast-food employees.

The referendum, she said, is a direct attempt to keep workers in poverty.

report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center shows that people working fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. One in five families with a member holding a fast-food job has an income below the poverty line, the study said.

Nearly 80% of the state’s fast-food workers are people of color, the report said, and more than 60% are Latino/Latina and two-thirds are women.

Another study from Harvard and UC San Francisco found that California’s fast-food workers are paid $3 an hour less than comparable service-sector workers, while also facing higher levels of schedule instability.

Fast-food workers got their message out last month when they rallied outside a Starbucks in Los Angeles and caravaned between other fast-food headquarters locations in Orange County, including Del Taco and El Pollo Loco.

Angelica Hernandez, who has worked for McDonald’s for 18 years and currently earns $17.75 an hour, also participated in Monday’s press call.

“They have lied to voters to get signatures,” the 49-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “We wonder how many of these signatures are valid.”

Hernandez said she has endured wage theft and sexual harassment on the job, and continues to support AB 257.

“We’ve been fighting two years for this,” she said. “That’s how important this law is.”


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