Governor Newsom passes new legislation for California’s fast food industry


Julia Nikhinson | AP

Governer Newsom has passed legislation in recent months, including bills regarding fast food labor, prison and climate reform.

California welcomed a new law that brought a significant amount of controversy this past Labor Day. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed new legislation A.B. 257 that he believes will empower more than half a million workers across the state. For as much praise as Newsom and the bill have received from fast food workers, he is getting equally as much criticism by business owners across the nation. 

The legislation will create a new 10 member fast food council composed of business, labor and government representatives who are appointed by the governor. These representatives will carry the responsibility of setting wages and assuring safe and healthy working conditions within California. For members of this council to issue a law, 10,000 California fast food workers must approve a petition.

California’s current minimum wage is set at $15 per hour. In the next calendar year, that will increase to up to $22 per hour with the ability to grow in sync with the consumer price index (CPI) up to 3.5% a year.

Fast food workers in California have shown approval of the decision on social media and are envisioning the future of the fast food industry and the impact the bill will have on fast food workers. 

California’s proposal is good news for those who live in the state, but fast food employees across the nation struggle to make ends meet. Ana Israelson, a DePaul student, currently employed in a restaurant in Chicago, spoke on the effect of A.B. 257 and its potential impact on college students who double as fast food workers.

“Hopefully, working part-time in fast food will provide a more livable wage for students who have to balance school and work. It is hard to work and have school simultaneously, but unfortunately, it is a necessity when you are on your own,” Israelson said. “With better hours and wages, the work and school balance will benefit many students.”

Poor working conditions and wages have been of significant concern for employees within the fast food industry for decades. California is the first state to act on the conditions of workers in the industry at this level.  

52% of the families of front-line fast food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs to meet their basic needs, compared to 25% of the rest of the workforce, according to the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center.

Another study by the UCLA Labor Center found that half of all fast food workers in the state have reported experiencing verbal abuse. It also has shown that more than two in five say they have experienced injury or illness in the workplace in the last year.

The passing of A.B. 257 is not only viewed from a positive perspective; the legislation was passed on Sept. 5 with minimal margin, and is already being contested. 

The law and its presence have not been limited to California alone. Media and fast food industry members in other major cities and states, including Illinois, have shared strong opinions on the law. 

“The law is controversial,” said Chris Bury, DePaul journalism professor. “These owners are not going to want the government to tell their franchises what wages to pay and what their working conditions should be.” 

The International Franchise Association (IFA), a membership organization for over 1,400 franchise brands and 775,000 small franchise businesses nationwide, released a statement after the act was signed into law.

 “The law singles out the quick-service restaurant industry and the franchise business model and stands to increase prices at impacted restaurants across the state, harming local businesses without improving existing worker protections in the state,” IFA wrote.

Amid the intense struggle in the United States with inflation, the passing of this bill conflicts with the strategy of numerous business owners trying to stay open. Still feeling the effects of the pandemic, many local business owners fear the new legislation in California, passing along to other states across the nation.  

Abraham Rahman is the proud owner of three Seafood Junction restaurants across the Chicagoland area and voiced his opinion on California’s new legislation.

“We are in trouble,” Rahman said. “The cost of food is already high, and this will continue to raise our prices.” 

Business owners like Rahman are struggling to stay competitive with prices and have continuously found themselves in limbo regarding staff maintenance. Though improved health conditions and livable wages are promising ways of living, the fear for owners such as Rahman continues to rise.

 “You can’t continue to raise your prices on your customers. Small businesses won’t be around much longer,” Rahmen said.

Connect with Ruchi Nawathe: @ruchinawathe | [email protected]