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California fast-food workers fighting to pass sweeping worker protections bill

Fast-food worker Lizzet Aguilar, left, protests outside a McDonald’s restaurant in East Los Angeles Friday, March 12, 2021.  Damian Dovarganes/ AP

Story at a glance

  • California’s Senate is considering the FAST Food Recovery Act.
  • It’s a sweeping bill that would standardize wages, working conditions and more for California’s fast-food workers.
  • Employers would be prohibited from firing or discriminating against employees that try to exercise rights created under the bill.

California lawmakers have the power to advance legislation that could drastically empower fast food workers in the state, standardizing wages, working hours and working conditions. 

The FAST Food Recovery Act, known as AB-257, would resolve long-standing issues in the fast-food industry by imposing minimum standards on wages and other working conditions related to health, safety and welfare of workers. The bill would also prohibit a fast-food restaurant operator from firing or discriminating against any employee for exercising the rights created under the bill.  

AB-257 would establish an 11-member Fast Food Sector Council within the state’s Department of Industrial Relations that would set what minimum standards and wages, working hours and other working conditions should be.  

However, the bill would be limited to fast food restaurants consisting of 30 or more establishments nationally. 

The bill’s text states that for years the fast-food sector has been, “rife with abuse, low pay, few benefits and minimal job security, with California workers subject to high rates of employment violations, including wage theft, sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as heightened health and safety risks.”  


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An example of that came up last month, when a Los Angeles McDonald’s franchisee was cited more than $125,000 for workplace retaliation. The Labor Commissioner’s Office found the Marengo Street McDonald’s had retaliated against four employees by firing each of them after they filed complaints about unsafe work conditions related to COVID-19 and participated in strikes over the restaurant’s safety conditions.  

AB-257 aims to address such behavior and more. 

“This bill would make a big difference for a lot of folks out there, many of which are too afraid to use their voices because they have a lot to lose – their jobs,” California Assemblymember Chris Holden, one of the lead authors of the bill, said in a statement. 

California leads the country with the highest number of fast-food workers, accounting for about 384,000 workers as of May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, there were about 3.4 million fast food and counter workers in the U.S. 

A study by the University of California Los Angeles surveyed 417 fast-food workers across 118 companies and 342 individual workplaces across Los Angeles. The results showed 38 percent of workers brought up concerns of COVID-19 with their employer, but 55 percent reported the employer did not or only partly addressed the problem. At the same time, 17 percent of workers said they experienced some type of retaliation when asking for protection or taking leave.  

Wages were also an issue, with 44 percent of workers saying they did not have enough money to pay for groceries, 43 percent said they missed rent or a mortgage payment and 9 percent became housing insecure during the pandemic. 

California has a tiered minimum wage, with employers that have 25 employees or less required to pay $14 an hour, while employers with 26 employees or more are required to pay $15 an hour. The state requires minimum wage of all industries to be increased yearly.  

AB-257 is currently awaiting a vote in California’s Senate and if it succeeds and becomes law it would become the first of its kind measure in the country.  

“Employees should not have to choose between safe working conditions and their livelihood. This bill prioritizes collaboration and equity among stakeholders throughout the fast food sector, and I look forward to working with franchisors, franchisees, employee representatives, and any stakeholder who is interested in contributing an inclusive solution to move this bill through the legislature,” said Holden. 


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