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California Fast Food Workers Aim for New Protections

California’s proposed Fast Recovery Act (Act) would create a statewide fast-food sector 11-member council to set wages as well as other work standards for the industry. Its members will be made up of workers, state regulators, franchisees, and their parent companies appointed by the governor and state legislators. Under the Act, the council will hold public hearings every six months and conduct a full review of the adequacy of minimum fast-food restaurant health, safety and employment standards at least once every three years. In addition, the Act will increase franchisee and parent company accountability. The Act will hold companies with franchises responsible for ensuring franchisees comply with employment, worker, and public health and safety laws.

Workers advocating for the bill say they want a way to fight low pay, poor working conditions, and a lack of safety precautions. The workers assert these ongoing issues have significantly worsened during the pandemic. Defined as essential workers during the pandemic, they challenge the notion that employers treated them as essential. Workers from a Subway franchise interviewed by The Guardian said they were forced to “skip breaks and work off the clock, had tips stolen, had sick pay taken away, [and] faced safety problems, including abusive customers.” They allege their employer ignored these issues. They filed a wage complaint with CalOSHA and the state’s department of labor. While they allege they were not compensated fairly, they also allege their owner received PPP loans and Covid-19 grants from the federal government totaling more than $285,000.

The California State Assembly passed the bill at the end of January 2022. The California Senate will next take it up. If it passes the Senate, it will head to the governor for a signature.