California lawmakers approve landmark fast food worker bill


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Monday proposed a cutting-edge measure that would give more than half a million fast-food workers more power and protections, despite objections from restaurant owners who warn that this would increase consumer costs.

The bill would create a new 10-member fast food council with an equal number of worker and employer representatives, as well as two state officials, empowered to set minimum standards for wages, hours and working conditions in California.

A late amendment would cap any minimum wage increase for fast-food workers at chains of more than 100 restaurants at $22 an hour next year, up from the minimum of $15.50 an hour in statewide, with increases in the cost of living thereafter.

“We made history today,” Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry said, calling it a “watershed moment.”

“This legislation is a huge step forward for workers in California and across the country,” she said as advocates offered it as a model for other states.

The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 21 to 12, with no votes to spare and facing bipartisan opposition. That sends it to the Assembly for a final decision before lawmakers adjourn on Wednesday. Assembly members had previously narrowly passed a broader version of the bill.

The debate split along party lines, with Republicans opposing it, though three Democrats voted against the measure and several did not vote.

« It’s innovative, it brings industry and workers together around a table, » said Democratic Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who took the bill to the Senate. She called it « a very, very balanced way of addressing employers, franchisees and workers alike. »

Almost every Republican senator has spoken out in opposition, including Senator Brian Dahle, who is also the Republican nominee for governor in November.

“It’s a springboard to unionize all these workers. Ultimately, it’s going to drive up the cost of the products they serve,” Dahle said. He later added, “There are no slaves working for California companies, period. You can quit anytime and you can go find a job elsewhere if you don’t like your employer.

Restaurant owners and franchisors cited an analysis they commissioned from the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at UC Riverside, saying the legislation would increase costs for consumers. Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration also fears the measure will create « a fragmented regulatory and legal environment. »

The debate has drawn attention across the country, including on Capitol Hill where Democratic U.S. Representative Ro Khanna has expressed hope it will spark similar efforts elsewhere.

It is « one of the most important employment laws passed in a generation, » said Kate Andrias, an employment law expert at Columbia Law School. She called it « a big step forward for some of the country’s most vulnerable workers, giving them a voice in their working conditions.

The bill grew out of a labor movement to raise the minimum wage and Andrias said he would « work in conjunction with traditional union organizing to give workers more voice over their working conditions. »

International Franchise Association President and CEO Matthew Haller countered that the legislation « is a discriminatory move aimed at targeting the franchise business model to bolster union ranks ».

Organizations representing Asian, Black and LGBTQ businesses sent a letter to senators on Monday arguing that the measure would hurt minority owners and workers.

Don Thompson, Associated Press


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