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California Lawmakers Approve Fast Food Labor Council to Increase Worker Wages and Safety

Assembly Bill 257 now heads to California Gov. Gavin Newsom for approval

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A rally for AB 257.
Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

As Labor Day approaches, the California Senate passed a bill this week that could alter work conditions for fast-food employees throughout the state. Assembly Bill 257, or the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, overwhelmingly passed the senate on Wednesday, August 31, and now heads to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

The approval of this high-profile bill occurred the week before the national holiday that recognizes the American labor movement. If Newsom approves AB 257, the legislation could increase the hourly wage for California’s fast-food workers, while regulating working hours, and placing a heavy emphasis on their health, safety, and welfare at places like In-N-Out and Burger King.

Here’s a breakdown of the bill, which begins with, “Fast-food workers are the largest and fastest-growing group of low-wage workers in the state and lack sector-specific protections.” AB 257 acknowledges the fast-food industry has a history of noncompliance with mandated workplace health and safety, a trend highlighted by various media outlets during the pandemic. In early 2021, California’s Labor Commissioner cited and fined a Boyle Heights McDonald’s franchisee $125,913 after illegally firing four employees after they reported concerns about unsafe working conditions.

A 2021 UCLA study commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health found that Southern California’s fast-food workers experienced wage theft, were injured on the job, and were not given personal protective gear during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AB 257 would create a 13-person fast-food council that consists of dining industry representatives, including fast-food workers and advocates for both franchisees and workers. The council would ultimately establish standards for wages at any fast-food chain with at least 100 locations nationwide, and potentially increase the hourly wage to $22 an hour in 2023.

As for working conditions, the fast-food council will determine new standards on wages, working conditions, and training that ensures the welfare and safety of fast-food workers. AB 257’s fast-food council would be the first of its kind in the country, and could potentially become a model for other states to utilize, as food workers continue to further organize and unionize throughout the country, reports the Wall Street Journal.

All of that said, business owners are not on board with AB 257. KTLA-5 reports concerns around driving up food costs, which owners claim will result in higher prices for customers. September and October are the time of year when proposed laws cross the governor’s desk, and early indications note that Newsom is not open to signing the law, given his mixed record against labor laws, according to Cal Matters.