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California fast food workers to get $20 minimum wage

Hundreds of hours of negotiations between lawmakers and restaurant owners went into the passage of Assembly Bill 1228.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Thursday that raises fast food workers’ wages to $20 an hour, part of a deal that changes existing law and keeps a costly initiative off the 2024 ballot.

Assembly Bill 1228 — written by Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat — replaces the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, passed into law last year. That law was immediately challenged by the group Save Local Restaurants, which sought to put the question to voters at the ballot box.

Holden’s bill, which passed the Legislature on its final day this year, was the result of negotiations. The restaurant group agreed to pull its initiative from the ballot. Also, the Fast Food Council — initially created by last year’s bill — is modified and stripped of some of its power.

The $20 minimum wage, expected to affect some 500,000 California fast food workers, becomes effective April 1. The council can grant annual wage increases at no more than 3.5%, until Jan. 1, 2029, when it disbands.

Certain workers are exempt, like those who work in a bakery or a restaurant within a grocery.

Anneisha Williams, who spoke at the Thursday bill signing, wiped tears from her eyes. Taking her turn to speak, she stood at the lectern among several fast food workers and advocates.

“There were so many people against us that told us no,” Williams said. “But guess what? We told them, ‘Yes, we can.’”

Newsom, fresh off a series of interviews at Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate, called Thursday’s bill signing as different to the debate as “daylight and darkness.”

“I needed this morning,” Newsom said moments before signing the bill. “I needed this moment.”

Newsom pointed to Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union, as educating him on this issue. The governor said he realized he had a responsibility to act, leading to the creation of a coalition to further workers’ goals.

The legislation signed Thursday was the result of a contentious battle between labor and restaurants. A judge halted the 2022 law from going into effect, pending the signature-gathering process for the ballot initiative. AB 1228 then went to the final day of the Legislature, with a late-night committee meeting in the Capitol before securing passage.

In the past several months, hundreds of hours have been spent in negotiations over the bill. Those negotiations resulted in the restaurant group agreeing to take its measure off the 2024 ballot.

“This is a big deal — $20 an hour,” Newsom said.

According to Newsom, 80% of the fast food workforce are people of color and two-thirds are women. Henry, who attended the bill signing, said the new law will transform not only workers’ lives, but those of their children, grandparents and neighbors.

State Senator Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican, was one of eight senators who opposed AB 1228 in that chamber.

“It may be dubbed a happy meal, but when you get the price for that meal, you’re going to be scared,” he said Sept. 14.

Newsom on Thursday said the same argument was made during the Fight for $15 campaign.

“They said the exact same thing and it didn’t happen,” he added.

Newsom said business operators want a stable and engaged workforce, and AB 1228 will bring that.

Holden, in the Legislature for 11 years, said no other bill has impacted his personal feelings more than Thursday’s legislation. He credited fast food workers for organizing and at times camping at Capitol Park to have their voices heard. He also thanked restaurant owners for their willingness to sit at the negotiating table.

“It’s a process,” Holden said. “I say, to God be the glory.”

Categories / Employment, Government, Law

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