Will California increase the bargaining power of fast food workers? • Sacramento News and Review

A groundbreaking state law could raise work standards for fast food workers while keeping them safe.

By Bobbi Murray, Capital & Main

This story is produced by the award-winning journalism association Capital and principal and co-published here with permission.

Fast food workers have been announcement by government officials, executives and some doctors as essential workers during the pandemic. But obviously not treated as such – they endure skirmishes with unmasked customers and work long hours due to understaffing with other sick employees, some infected with COVID themselves.

A Californian measure for improve labor standards in the state’s fast food sector was defeated by three votes in the Assembly in July. But it revived on Jan. 20, reintroduced with edits by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-San Gabriel Valley), who chairs the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Time is running out now – the measure must pass the Assembly by January 31 before moving to the Senate. A vote by the Assembly is expected this week.

The Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (FAST Recovery Act) was introduced in January 2021 by then Assemblyman Lorena Gonzalez, but Gonzalez quit a few weeks ago to lead the California Labor Federation. AB 257 would establish a fast food sector council including representatives from the Department of Public Health; fast food franchisers (companies like McDonald’s and Jack in the Box); franchisees (individual owners of local franchise outlets); and fast food workers, who would be represented on the board by two of their own.

Unions deem it important at a time when fast-food workers in LA County, for example, who are disproportionately non-white women, earn less than $26,000 per year. These employees are twice as likely to fall below the federal poverty level. For more than 557,000 workers Employed by more than 30,000 franchises in the state, the legislation raises the possibility of better compliance with applicable laws and standards.

The council would create standards for all parties, Holden says, and the legislature would not write the regulatory language, but would consider for approval the actions that council participants agree on. The bill states that the council would establish “industry minimum standards on wages, hours of work and other working conditions”, including those related to health and safety. Holden has been approached by the Service Employees International Union to reintroduce AB 257 – the union is running a nationwide fight for $15 campaign that has raised pay standards in 56 cities, according to the website. (Disclosure: The SEIU financially supports this website.)

“It was important to be specific about the inclusion of workers who we have really seen fall through the cracks, paid minimum wage or below, sometimes operating in situations that are not conducive to good working environments. “says Holden.

“We thought that because these are workers who are often women, you have security issues in that sense, and how are they resolved?”

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Lizzet Aguilar, an employee at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, says she’s all for AB 257. She’s worked for the area franchise for 12 years — as a cook, cleaner, waitress. In November 2020, she says, there was a sudden drop in the number of workers showing up for work – management explained it was people going on vacation, traveling to Mexico to visit family, all sorts of reasons to be absent. “It was COVID and they didn’t tell us.”

People were sick and others were afraid to come to work, she said.

Suddenly, one employee was doing the work of two. The restaurant was small and everyone worked closely together. In November 2020, Aguilar contracted COVID, as did her husband and the rest of her family. “We had to quarantine ourselves but they didn’t pay us.”

When she returned to work, she got all kinds of attitudes from the people ordering their McMeals. “We are mistreated by some customers,” she says. Additionally, there was no more air conditioning – a cost-cutting measure – and the workers were suffocated. (Another task the bill assigns to the Quick Food Industry Council would be to create more protections for frontline service workers who are harassed by customers during the pandemic.)

“That’s why we have to fight for AB 257, (for) someone to listen to us on worker protection,” Aguilar says.

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While we can think of the A local McDonald’s or Jack in the Box as a family business, opening a restaurant can require $500,000 in liquid capital and up to $2 million in investment.

The local McDonald’s or Jack in the Box is often a small business paying for the brand, and many franchisees may end up feeling more beholden to their bosses (who control their bottom line) than to labor regulations and wage standards. minimum. AB 257 aims to make franchisors more accountable for health, pay and labor: it would allow franchisees to sue franchisors when results prevent them from complying with regulations or paying a minimum wage. Instead of viewing fast food restaurants as individual businesses that set their own terms, the invoice language defines a fast food chain as a group of 30 or more restaurants under the same brand. More responsibility is directed upwards.

Franchisors and franchisees are essentially a joint employer, says Nelson Lichtenstein, labor historian and author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New Business World.

Uniform pay and work standards set by a board would relieve pressure on franchisees by removing an element of competition, he says – terms are agreed upon and all operate under the same framework.

A state council could protect workers’ rights more effectively than trying to unionize the fast-food industry, Lichtenstein believes. There have been strong efforts to organize fast food workers, but little success. Collective bargaining has become more difficult in general, but particularly in this sector.

“How many McDonald’s have been unionized? Zero. Starbuck? – two,” says Lichtenstein.

Opposition to AB 257 includes two of the state’s largest lobbies, the California Restaurant Association (CRA) and the California Chamber of Commerce. In a statement to Capital & Main, ARC President and CEO Jot Condie said, “This bill is essentially the same bill as failed AB 257 (2021, Gonzalez). last year amid arguments that the legislation was unfair and unworkable. . The California Restaurant Association’s concerns about this legislation remain the same as they were last year – the legislation overrides existing labor laws in favor of a new set of rules that will be crafted and enforced by 11 appointees unelected politicians who are not accountable to voters. ”

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When New York State reassessed its minimum wage in 2015, it convened a wage commission to raise the minimum to $15 for fast food workers. In Seattle, a Labor Standards Council has been established for domestic workers – it monitors employer compliance and makes recommendations to the city council for review, debate and approval. In this way, according to Ken Jacobs, president of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley, the new California law would be an oversized version of an already established practice.

“This proposal would have a board of directors made up of workers, government, business and other [represented]which will then examine industry conditions and set standards to meet those specific conditions.

“The basic concept is there. It would be the first modern state-level labor standards board covering an industry of this size – it would be the first of its kind,” Jacobs said.

Holden, which reintroduced AB 257, knows the math of being a franchisee. He opened a Subway store at a busy Pasadena intersection in 1992 and owned it for two years.

“You have to come up with a lot of money, and then the franchisor says, ‘It’s okay, you can borrow my name,'” he says. You have to invest in multiple outlets to run a franchise business.

The franchisor sets standards that the franchisee must meet to stay in business. Under the advisory structure that would be put in place by AB 257, franchisors, franchisees and employees would have a way to agree on labor standards.

This is to the benefit of the fast food industry, Holden says. “The franchisor, the franchisee and the employee are the three pillars of what makes the brand.

The employee is the face of the company, he says. The council would give employees the chance to sit at the table with franchisors and franchisees.

It could set a pattern in the fast-food industry, Lichtenstein says. “California is a pioneer on social issues,” he adds. States took the lead in policy during the Progressive Era, ushering in women’s suffrage and setting wage and hour standards.

“With the deadlock in Washington,” Lichtenstein says, “it’s up to the states to decide.”

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