Fast-food workers urge employers to drop opposition to AB 257

California

Fast-food workers rallied in Los Angeles and Sacramento on Friday, Jan. 27, demanding their employers drop their opposition to a bill that promises to boost wages and improve working conditions for California’s half-million fast-food employees.

AB 257, also known as the FAST Recovery Act, was signed into law Sept. 5 by Gov. Gavin Newsom. But Save Local Restaurants — a coalition of fast-food franchisees and franchisors who oppose the measure — gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the 2024 ballot, putting the law on hold until voters decide its outcome.

The bill would create a 10-person, state-run council to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for non-union fast-food workers in California. It would have established a minimum wage of up to $22 an hour this year at restaurants with more than 100 locations nationwide and capped annual increases thereafter.

An Oct. 15 report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center shows that people working fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. (Photo courtesy of Fight for $15 and a Union)

Fast-food workers and supporters, including representatives with Fight for $15 and a Union, gathered Friday at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which has adamantly opposed AB 257. The Chamber and others who oppose the bill fear it will increase consumer prices and operating costs at restaurants, resulting in job losses and the closure of fast-food outlets.

The Save Local Restaurants coalition, led by the International Franchise Association, the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says it’s looking to “protect workers, small business owners and consumers from skyrocketing costs and further layoffs.”

“Californians are already suffering under the weight of rising prices, and AB 257 will make it harder to live, work and own a business in the state,” the group said in a statement released in September.

‘Barely making it’

Mysheka Ronquillo, who works at a Carl’s Jr. in Long Beach, says she’s struggling to get by.

“You have to give up all the little luxuries of life,” the 40-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “I make $15 an hour, but when the cost of health insurance is added in that becomes $12 an hour. We need a living wage of at least $22 an hour. With the cost of rent and utilities, I’m just barely making it.”

An Oct. 15 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.

Proponents of AB 257 also cite a New York Times story that alleges the National Restaurant Association uses mandatory $15 food-safety classes to help fund a nationwide lobbying campaign to keep restaurant wages from increasing.

ServSafe, the company they pay to provide the classes, doubles as a fundraising arm of the National Restaurant Association, the Times said, adding that the training has provided about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010.

Another report from the UC Riverside School of Business suggests AB 257 could boost fast-food prices by as much as 30%, with labor costs rising by 30% to 50%. The report says that could result in 28,000 to 46,000 job losses and the closure of 1,100 to 1,800 fast-food locations statewide.

Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, offered his thoughts in a statement released earlier this week after the Secretary of State’s office validated enough signatures to place a referendum on the 2024 ballot.

“No evidence exists to conclude that the FAST Act will better serve workers’ needs,” Erlinger said. “More than 1 million Californians took notice and said they wanted this bill’s fate to be decided at the ballot before bearing its burden, using California’s century’s old referendum process to stop it.”

Ronquillo, who participated in Friday’s rally at the LA Chamber of Commerce, said the workers are united in their resolve to see AB 257 enacted.

“This is about us making noise, being heard and getting our point across,” she said. “When we first went into the pandemic, who served you?” she said. “We did. A lot of people depend on fast food.”

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