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California Legislature passes landmark fast food workers bill

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The California Legislature passed a bill on Monday to create a government panel that will establish wage rates, working hours and other standards in fast food restaurants. 

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement would have to enforce the standards and there is a carve-out for valid collective bargaining agreements. 

AB 257, or the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, creates a Fast Food Sector Council, with members – including workers, union representatives, employers and two state officials – appointed by the governor, Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee. 

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

FAST-FOOD FRANCHISEES SAY CALIFORNIA'S AB 257 COULD INCREASE COSTS, UNDERMINE BUSINESS MODEL

Fast food workers

Fast food workers and their supporters march past the state Capitol calling on passage of a bill to provide increased power to fast-food workers, in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli / AP Newsroom)

The Senate passed the first-in-the-nation legislation in a 21-12 vote, over bipartisan opposition. The Assembly then sent it to Gov. Gavin Newsom on a final 41-16 vote.

While proponents say the measure will give more than half a million fast food workers more power and protections, restaurant owners warn that it would drive up costs for consumers and undermine the franchise model in the state.

"It’s innovative, it’s bringing industry and workers together at the table," Democratic Sen. Maria Elena Durazo said. 

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In-N-Out Burger

Pedestrians walk below an In-N-Out Burger restaurant sign in San Francisco, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu / AP Newsroom)

"We made history today," Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said, calling it "a watershed moment."

Almost every Republican senator spoke in opposition to the bill. 

"This is a stepping stone to unionize all these workers. At the end of the day, it’s going to drive up the cost of the products that they serve," Sen. Brian Dahle said.

Assemblyman Chris Holden

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Los Angeles, center, speaks about his bill to provide increased power to fast-food workers during a rally in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli / AP Newsroom)

"Reckless costly legislation that hits working families during record inflation is not the way to protect anyone—consumers, workers, or small businesses. Clearly, the legislature is out of touch with the financial realities across California, opting to pass this 20% food tax on to California counter service diners. Governor Newsom has a chance to do right by all and veto this bill. His own Department of Finance opposed AB 257, saying it would increase costs without solving the problem it claims to address," the campaign to Stop AB 257 said in a statement.

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"Skyrocketing costs for food, gas, and rent are crushing consumers and local restaurants alike. Now the legislature is increasing food prices to fund an unelected Council, bringing special interests into the state government. The council usurps power from state agencies who are underfunded and under-resourced to protect workers," it said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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