Fast food | California is considering rules that would give fast food workers more power.

A ground-breaking initiative that would offer fast food employees in California more power and protection is the source of hope for more than 500,000 of them.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Maria Bernal has been supporting her family by frequently working two jobs at fast food restaurants since she immigrated to California from Mexico 24 years ago.

However, she claims that after losing her home in 2019, when one of her employers started paying her minimum wage for eight hours even though she worked a 16-hour double shift, she was forced to spend six months living in a little Kia with her two youngest children, who were then three and fifteen.

In particular, for women and ethnic minorities who make up a large portion of California's more than 500,000 fast food workers, union organizers and other advocates claim that such wage theft and other forms of exploitation are endemic in the fast food sector. The industry contests the prevalence of such practices.

Bernal and more than 100 other protesters who recently gathered in front of the state capitol are placing their faith in ground-breaking legislation that would strengthen the authority and protections of fast food workers.

A new Fast Food Council made up of four workers' delegates, four employer representatives, and two state officials would be established under the proposal, which is awaiting final approval before the California Legislature adjourns on Wednesday. The council would be responsible for establishing minimum standards for pay, working hours, and conditions in California.

The council, according to Bernal, should offer employees like herself "a seat at the table where they will respect us more and not allow wage theft to happen, and also critically that we won't be fearful of retaliation," she said.

Franchisers and restaurant owners claim the measure would raise the cost of fast food. They claim research they paid the UC Riverside Center for Economic Forecast and Development to conduct, which estimates the price increase to be between 7% and 20%.

The rise would be kept at the low end of that range if a late wage cap was included in the law. The statewide minimum wage is $15.50 per hour, however late modifications cap any raise in the minimum wage at $22 per hour the following year, with the cost of living adjustments following.

Other late changes include the requirement that 10,000 fast food workers sign a petition in support of the council payment and the fact that the council will expire after six years unless it is renewed.

The International Franchise Association's president and CEO, Matthew Haller, blasted the last-minute changes as "an attempt to put lipstick on a pig."

The amended law is pending review in the Senate after an earlier version passed the Assembly in January with no votes remaining after failing last year.

Although California's attempt would be more extensive, a paid board established by the governor of New York in 2015 resulted in a rise in fast food salaries there, and several towns have undertaken similar efforts. According to the liberal Center for American Progress, industry committees—also known as workers' boards, worker standards boards, or workers' committees—could help close racial and gender wage gaps as well as battle economic injustice.

Democratic Assemblyman Alex Lee said at the workers' protest that "if we are successful here, workers in Florida, Texas, New York, even Idaho will be encouraged and they can emulate our victories."

The California law would apply to fast food chains with at least 100 locations nationwide.

It developed from the ten-year Fight for $15 and a Union minimum wage movement as well as labor unions worldwide and in California initiatives to organize fast food workers.

“This is more than just a labor fight. According to Joseph Bryant, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, the campaign is about racial justice and gender justice. "In the fast food industry, individuals of color make up about 80% of the workforce. Women make up two-thirds of the workforce in the fast food industry, and these workers are being abused.

According to joint research by Harvard and UC San Francisco published this month, fast food employees in California are paid about $3 an hour less than equivalent workers in other service sector industries.

Bernal hopes that the California law and the ongoing unionization drive for fast food restaurants would eventually result in benefits like paid time off, health insurance, and retirement plans. Her son claims that a restaurant manager threatened him and that she violated child labor laws when she filed a wage claim with state authorities earlier this year, asking for $160,000 in back pay and penalties.

According to Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden, the bill's author, workers "are still battling for some of the basic things that should have been happening a long time ago for the fast food workers who serve our community every day, even through a pandemic."

The law, according to Jesse Lara, whose family-owned company runs 34 El Pollo Loco franchises in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego, is unnecessary and would hurt the more than 1,000 employees of the business.

He claimed that because many of the firms' managers had been promoted from within, it is unjust to believe "that we have to rip off our employees to earn a profit." He claimed that greater salaries and benefits will compel restaurant operators to hike prices and reduce employee hours to make ends meet since inflation is "killing us."

According to Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies and employment relations and the director of Rutgers University's workplace justice lab, the proposed bill not only advances unions' goals of collective bargaining with the entire industry rather than trying to organize fast food chains one restaurant at a time.

She claimed that while such sector-wide agreements are usual in Europe, they are uncommon in the US.

According to Matt Sutton, senior vice president for government affairs and public policy for the California Restaurant Association, the Golden State already has some of the best worker protection laws and regulations in the United States, if not the entire world.

He denied accusations that the fast food industry had a greater rate of labor, unemployment, health, and safety issues, but insisted that lawmakers should allocate more funds to the enforcement of labor laws rather than establishing a new council with exclusive regulatory authority over one industry.

When it is acceptable, there are ways to penalize employers, according to Sutton.

The initiative was also rejected in June by Democratic governor Gavin Newsom's Department of Finance, which cited potential expenses and what it described as "a fragmented regulatory and legal framework."

The law aims to solve delayed enforcement by establishing tighter requirements for particular sectors, which could prolong existing delays, the administration cautioned. "It is not obvious that this bill will accomplish its goal," it said. labor unions

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