California Fast Food Workers Unite To Fight For More Labor Rights

California fast food workers are rallying together to tout a proposed bill that they say would help them achieve better working conditions and support for fighting labor law violations in the eateries they serve.

In April, a weeklong series of demonstrations took place in locations across the state, including Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.  The demonstrations were held by workers who want the public and lawmakers to know about the Fast Food Accountability and Standards — or FAST — Recovery Act, or AB 257, which was introduced in early 2021. 

Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill focuses on health and safety measures for fast food workers, many of whom were exposed to and contracted coronavirus while on the job.

“What we are fighting for is to have a safe workplace. We hope that legislators support us in the passage of this bill,” McDonald’s worker Angelica Hernandez told The Guardian while protesting in San Diego.

SEIU California is among the organizations lobbying for support of AB 257. 

“California has been a leader in workers’ rights, and the FAST Recovery Act ensures that fast-food workers have a seat at the table and a role in improving safety in an industry rife with workplace abuses,” said Joseph Bryant, SEIU California Executive Board member and SEIU 1021 President. “Whether you’re a fast food worker, gig driver, janitor, security officer, a nursing home or dialysis worker—every worker deserves to have a voice on the job. No essential worker should have to risk their lives or their families’ lives to earn a paycheck.”

Among the actionable items in the proposed bill is the creation of an 11-person council  appointed by the governor, the speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Rules Committee. 

“The purpose of the council would be to establish industry-wide minimum standards on wages, working hours, and other working conditions related to the health, safety, and welfare of, and supplying the necessary cost of proper living to, fast food restaurant workers, as well as effecting interagency coordination and prompt agency responses in this regard,” the bill text states

 The FAST Recovery Act would also require that a fast food franchisor be responsible for many of the employment actions of the franchisee and ensure compliance for “a variety of employment, worker, and public health and safety laws and orders, including those related to unfair business practices, employment discrimination, the California Retail Food Code, a range of labor regulations, emergency orders, and standards issued by the council.

As of now, many big franchisors are shielded from the responsibility and liability of the business owners who license out their name.

Advocates for the bill say the regulation is long overdue. 

Ken Jacobs, of UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, tells The Guardian

“Creating minimum health and safety standards and a fast-food council provides a way to address these industry-specific issues and improve conditions for the fast-food workforce in an industry that, because of the way it is structured is unlikely to do so outside of government regulation…Overall, I would say any effect on fast-food workers would be very great…and any effect on consumers would be very small.”

As of April 29, the bill has been making its way through the California legislator and re-referred to the committee on appropriations for review.