Keep Your Eyes On The Fast Food Workers In California

by | Jun 9, 2022 | Hospitality, Politics, SEIU, States, Strikes

Earlier this year, we told you about how California is transforming into ground central for unions’ nationwide push for a $15 minimum wage (and beyond). That effort saw the State Assembly take on a measure that would increase hourly wages to $18 by 2025 (beyond the state’s minimum wage of $15.50). If the measure goes into effect, this would be a substantial increase for California’s approximately 557,000 fast food workers, who are (like everyone else) feeling inflation’s effects.

A signature gathering initiative (sponsored by the SEIU) further built momentum for that measure (the Living Wage Act Of 2022), and for minimum wage for all workers in the state. In November, voters could decide whether $18 per hour will be a reality.

There’s a lot going on here with California being a proving ground for another measure with far-reaching implications: The state’s fast food workers could also soon possess the power to bargain, if progressives get their way. Assembly Bill 257 – the so-called Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act – aims to essentially transform the state government into a union-like entity for the fast food industry. The bill calls for “minimum standards on wages, working hours” and more for this specific industry, and it would grant the labor commissioner extraordinary powers to act against companies and levy fines without even a peep of a formal filing from workers.

The kicker for this bill: Worker complaints and associated demands would land in the hands of a “sector council,” which would possess board powers to set regulations at will for all fast food chains (all of the Pizza Huts and Popeyes and Taco Bells and every chain in between) with 30 or more California locations.The council would bypass the bargaining table and propel these new “standards” toward the state government for implementation and enforcement on issues of wages, working conditions, and so on.

The effects: Workers would receive the power to bypass their individual employers and bargain with the fast-food industry as a whole. The proposed mechanism, “sectoral bargaining,” is a concept already widespread in Europe, but the SEIU wants to make it common practice in the U.S., too. Already, SEIU represented nursing home workers are making noises about wanting their own industry-ruling board.

For fast food employers, the results could be tough to stomach, given that the service industry continues to struggle with ongoing staffing difficulties and pandemic-related safety issues. Customers will naturally be expected to absorb higher wages through higher prices. This could (as one knows) lead to decreased demand, which could also translate into job losses. How this all impacts an industry that’s notoriously difficult to organize (due to high worker turnover) remains to be seen, but unions clearly have a vested interest in the measure’s outcome.

The next steps: A State Senate hearing will further determine the bill’s future, and coordinated worker strikes (to support the bill) will begin June 9 at fast food outlets across California.

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