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California lawmakers passed a measure on Monday that would give more than half a million fast-food workers more power and protections.

Assembly Bill 257 would enact the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act, which establishes a 10-member board to establish sector-wide minimum standards ​​ on wages, working hours, and other working conditions related to the health, safety, and welfare of fast food restaurant workers. 

 “As a former franchisee, I am aware that time is of the essence and with AB 257, we have a chance to lift up small business owners and essential workers swiftly with an inclusive approach to business,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden, who authored the bill. 

With Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature, the bill would cap any minimum wage increases or fast food workers at chains with more than 100 restaurants at $22 an hour next year. The bill also includes a six-year expiration date.

“[This bill] will give fast food workers at large fast-food establishments the ability to shape industry-wide workplace standards through the establishment of the Fast Food Sector Council, and will empower workers to hold companies accountable for providing safe working conditions,” Holden said. 

The council would include state agencies, employers, and worker representatives to enhance numerous local, state, and federal laws and regulations. According to the bill, the council must conduct research and submit a report to the Legislature outlining its recommendations.

The bill passed Senate on a 21-12 vote, the Assembly on a 41-16, and was sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office.  

Those in opposition, including the International Franchise Association, said “[This bill] makes the improper assumption, and reaches the improper conclusion, that the franchisor and franchisee have some collective control over each other's day-to-day business affairs,”.

Stop AB 257, a coalition of  California small business owners, restaurateurs, franchisees, employees, consumers, and community-based organizations argue that it is the wrong time for legislators to pass the bill, citing price increases. 

“Skyrocketing costs for food, gas, and rent are crushing consumers and local restaurants alike. Now the legislature is increasing food prices to fund an unelected Council, bringing special interests into the state government. The council usurps power from state agencies who are underfunded and under-resourced to protect workers,” the group wrote in a statement to Newsom.

Supporters of the bill, including the Service Employee International Union of California, said [This bill] is a step toward empowering the state's fast-food workers and holding accountable billion-dollar companies.”

The bill comes as the pandemic highlighted worker's conditions in the food-service industry. A review by the Los Angeles Times of 1,600 federal OSHA complaints in the fast food industry during the pandemic found that regulators have been slow to intervene. The Los Angeles Times reported that  "in response to those 1,600 COVID complaints over the course of the pandemic, inspectors have visited only 56 fast food outlets, according to OSHA records". 

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