Jan 25, 2023 - Economy

Groundbreaking California fast-food law heads to statewide referendum and big political fight

Dozens of fast-food cooks and cashiers in Los Angeles gather to demand that McDonalds, Starbucks and other chains drop their referendum seeking to overturn AB 257

Fast-food workers protest the push for a referendum in Los Angeles in November. Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In a big victory for the fast-food industry, California's secretary of state on Tuesday said that enough signatures were collected to trigger a statewide referendum on the landmark Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act.

Why it matters: The law, AB 257, was hailed as groundbreaking by labor advocates as a way to improve working conditions in the fast-food industry when it was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

  • It would establish a council to set industrywide health and safety standards, and potentially set a fast-food minimum wage as high as $22 an hour.
  • The referendum, at a minimum, delays the law's implementation by more than a year. The vote won't be held until November 2024.
  • Opponents spent nearly $14 million on the ballot measure to challenge the law, per California state records.

What they're saying: The fast-food industry, which has argued the law would put restaurants out of business, and trigger more inflation, celebrated the referendum in a raft of statements.

  • "We’re pleased that Californians will get the chance to exercise their constitutional right to vote on this law and will continue to support the operators, small business owners, and workers that make the restaurant industry so important to our customers' lives,” Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association's executive vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.
  • Advocates said they'll keep fighting for its passage: “Despite fast-food corporations’ efforts to distort the referendum process, we know California voters see through their tricks," Mary Kay Henry, president, Service Employees International Union, said in a statement.

Our thought bubble, via Axios Latino editor Astrid Galván: This is a big blow to Latino fast-food workers, who make up 60% of the workforce, and who helped pass the law. It could also stymie plans for similar laws that advocates planned to introduce in other states.

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