Sep 6, 2022 - World

Fed up Latinas helped push for California's fast food law

Illustration of fries and ketchup making a dollar sign

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Fed up Latinas successfully helped push for a law that gives California fast-food workers more say on wages, hours and working conditions.

Driving the news: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, or AB 257, on Labor Day despite major opposition from business groups, who said it would make owning a fast-food business much harder and more expensive.

  • “Today’s action gives hardworking fast-food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry," Newsom said in a statement.
  • Ingrid Vilorio, a worker at Jack in the Box, said in Spanish during a news conference that passing the bill "was a battle of Goliath versus David and we just had our voice to ensure AB 257 became a reality."
  • She added that workers "know it’s not over, it’s the beginning. We’re going to keep working so that these half million workers have a voice."

The big picture: The law will shift some power over working conditions to California fast food workers, 60% of whom are Latino.

  • Fast food workers have long said that fast food restaurants exploit them and provide unsafe working conditions.
  • It creates a council with the authority to establish standards for wages and working hours and conditions. The council will include businesses, government representatives and workers.
  • A minimum wage set by the council would be capped at $22 an hour in 2023 and subject to the consumer price index in future years.

What they’re saying: “Whether it’s my voice or another fast food worker, we’d be at the table with the companies, the corporations,” Lizzet Aguilar, a fast food worker with 27 years in the industry, told Axios last week.

  • “We’d be speaking for all fast food workers. It would impact my life greatly because there won’t be so many injustices,” Aguilar told Axios in Spanish.
  • Aguilar, of the Los Angeles area, said unsafe working conditions during the early stages of the pandemic, including a lack of personal protective equipment, pushed her to the edge after years of dealing with bad bosses and unpaid overtime.
  • Aguilar, 41, said she was fired from one restaurant for complaining about poor working conditions and has dedicated her spare time to promoting the bill by knocking on doors, making media appearances and attending protests. She still works in fast food.

Labor advocates cheered the legislation and are already looking to duplicate it in other states, Axios’ Emily Peck reports.

  • "It's a groundbreaking bill, likely to lead to more empowered workers," David Madland, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, tells Emily.
  • Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in a statement on Monday that AB 257 is "the most significant advance in workers’ fight for fairness on the job in a generation."
  • “Workers from coast to coast are stepping into their power, and they’ll take their fight to any company in any industry," she added.

The other side: The Stop AB 257 campaign, comprised of business owners, criticized Newsom for signing the bill.

  • “By signing AB 257 into law, Governor Newsom has not leveled the playing field but instead targeted one slice of California’s small businesses and consumers who rely on counter service restaurants to feed their families," the campaign said in a statement Monday.
  • "As individual employers and neighborhood restaurants across the state, we will use every tool at our disposal to protect our consumers, workers, and other job providers from the pain and havoc that will result from enacting this bill."
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