The California state Senate on Monday is scheduled to take up a bill that would potentially create a new layer of regulation for working conditions in fast food restaurants.
Called the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, or FAST Recovery Act, Assembly Bill 257 would create a Fast Food Sector Council within the state’s Department of Industrial Relations. Comprised of 11 members appointed by the governor, the council would set minimum standards on wages, working hours, health and safety and other issues for workers in quick-service restaurants across the state.
The bill, which was passed by the Assembly earlier this year, would also make franchisors jointly responsible with franchisees in meeting those standards, and would hold regular public hearings to review working conditions within the industry.
Serving on the council would be members of various state agencies that regulate workplaces, but also representatives of franchisors, franchisees, restaurant workers and their advocacy groups.
Working conditions for hourly restaurant workers in fast food have been the subject of rallies and protests for months organized by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and the advocacy group Fight for $15 and a Union. Among the complaints are wage theft, threats of retaliation and intimidation, and unsafe working conditions — such as inadequate protections from COVID or working in restaurants without air conditioning during heat waves, for example.
With the FAST Recovery Act poised for action in the state Senate, those protests took on new energy this week as workers called for passage of the bill.
In one rally staged at Jack in the Box Inc. headquarters in San Diego on Thursday, 14 protesters were arrested for peacefully blocking the entrance to the corporate office, according to Fight for $15. Jack in the Box did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Labor advocates say the creation of a Fast Food Sector Council will give workers — and franchisees — a seat at the table to address ongoing issues, including sexual harassment, health and safety violations, and wage theft.
In an unrelated move, Jack in the Box Inc. on Thursday announced it has agreed to pay $50 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving Del Taco, which was charged with violations of wage-and-hour laws, along with unfair and unlawful business practices, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agreement contains no admission of wrongdoing. Jack in the Box Inc. acquired Del Taco earlier this year.
Support for the bill comes as labor activity grows within the foodservice industry.
“Every single day, California’s fast-food industry deepens inequality in our state and drives a race to the bottom in our economy,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU California and SEIU-United Service Worker West, in a statement. “Right now, instead of holding fast-food corporations accountable for their low pay and atrocious conditions, California is putting taxpayers on the hook to help cooks and cashiers survive. Until we fix this backwards situation, half a million working Californians will never be able to truly thrive.”
The California Restaurant Association, however, has opposed the FAST Recovery Act, saying union leaders are pushing a false narrative to win support for a bill that will ultimately raise menu prices.
“AB 257 creates a board of 11 unelected political appointees to run California’s entire counter service restaurant industry from Sacramento,” said a statement from the Campaign to Stop AB 257, which includes the state restaurant association. “The law not only strips management responsibilities from local restaurant owners but also authorizes the board to establish wage and labor laws — responsibilities currently reserved for elected officials.
“Forcing counter-service restaurants to bear the brunt of increased employee costs and new workplace rules will mean higher prices for working families and will hamper thousands of local restaurants as they recover from the pandemic,” the statement continued. “With inflation at its highest point in 40 years, this is the worst possible time for legislators to consider passing a food tax onto working Californians.”
Opponents of the bill also note that California already has rigorous worker protections, and a better approach would be providing resources to the state labor department to enforce existing regulations.
Hearings are scheduled before the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement committee on Monday. If AB 257 makes it through the various committees and is passed by the Senate, the bill would have to return to the Assembly for a final vote before making its way to the governor’s desk before the end of August.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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