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The Rundown on the New Laws That Will Impact California’s Vital Restaurant Industry

After signing a groundbreaking law that increases fast-food worker pay throughout the state, California lawmakers hope to see movement surrounding worker protection and paid sick leave

Gov. Newsom Signs Bill Raising Fast Food Workers Minimum Wage To $20 Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News 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.

On the West Coast, autumn marks the time of the year when the weather can’t decide whether it wants to be hot or cool. Fall also signals the end of the legislative session when California lawmakers send their work to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. Newsom ultimately rejects or enacts the bills into law.

The deadline to sign new bills into law is on October 14. One could call 2023 the year of worker protections, as legislation related to hospitality and restaurants was mostly driven by unions. Over the last few years, a number of Southern California groups successfully unionized, including Starbucks employees, La Colombe workers, and dancers at the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood. In 2021, workers from Genwa joined the California Restaurant & Retail Workers Union while workers from six LA-area Boba Guys stores joined as well.

Newsom has already signed these two laws as of late September 2023

A groundbreaking fast-food worker law

Though he recently signed a slew of high-profile laws including gun violence and eviction protections, Newsom traveled to Los Angeles on Thursday, September 28 for Assembly Bill 1228. Flanked by a group of unionized fast-food workers, Newsom signed the country’s most ambitious fast-food worker protection law that beginning in April 2024 increases the hourly wage from $15.50 to $20 for fast-food chains with more than 60 locations across the country.

That’s only one of the many features of AB 1228, which nullifies its predecessor, AB 257. Fast-food corporations fought AB 257 and hoped to send it to a statewide refendum. But recent negotiations between unions and businesses helped avoid the costly ballot initiative while securing the aforementioned wage hike. The law will also establish a council where workers and employers will collaborate with state agencies to determine wage standards, health and safety issues, working hours, and training.

AB 1228 is the first of its kind in the United States. Its roots can be traced back to 2020 when Boyle Heights McDonald’s workers alleged unsafe working conditions and wage theft.

A boost for California’s home-operated cooking businesses

Earlier this summer, Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1325. Also known as the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations program, AB 1325 strengthens the abilities of California’s home-operated cooking businesses that sell to the public by allowing them to sell more meals each week and earn up to $100,000 annually, doubled from the previous limit of $50,000.

Two laws that Newsom hasn’t signed yet that could ultimately affect workers and businesses

Worker protections against employer retaliation

If signed, Senate Bill 497 protects any California worker who makes wage claims or complaints about pay from illegal employer retaliation. Cal Matters reports retaliation claims have increased now that workers are more likely to speak up regarding bad workplace conditions, according to labor activists, who say retaliation claims to California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office increased five-fold from 2018 to 2021. Employer organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce oppose the bill and believe its passage could subject employers to frivolous claims.

Paid sick day increase

Long Beach Rep. Lena Gonzalez authored Senate Bill 616, which increases paid sick days from three to five. Federal law does not require employers to provide paid sick leave, and SB 616 would require California employers to do so. The bill also offers protections to unionized workers.