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Landmark legislation to protect fast-food workers passes State Assembly

The bill would establish a council tasked with establishing statewide minimum standards on wages, hours, safety and working conditions for fast-food workers.

SAN DIEGO — Ground-breaking legislation to help protect more than half a million fast-food workers in California got the green light Monday by the State Assembly. 

The bill would provide employees of franchise restaurants a voice in setting standards for wages, safety, training and work conditions.

Former San Diego Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, who will soon head the California Labor Federation, originally authored this legislation to protect fast food workers, which is the first of its kind in the entire nation.

"It's a way to shed some light on an area that has long needed it," said Democratic Assembly Member Chris Holden, a former franchisee who's now taken the lead on this measure, adding that this legislation gives a voice to thousands of workers who have long lacked representation.

"Their jobs are held over their head if they say anything, so they're put in a really difficult position," he added. 

AB 257, also known as the "FAST Recovery Act," would create a fast-food sector council: an 11-person board appointed by the governor that would include not only franchisees, franchisors and state agencies, but fast-food workers, and their advocates, as well.

"This approach -- by designing this council -- gives them a seat at the table, gives them an opportunity to have a voice," Holden said. 

The council would establish statewide minimum standards on wages, hours, training, safety and working conditions. The legislature would also have time to overrule the council's regulations before they take effect.

"Today was a show that workers will be prioritized," said Joseph Bryant, president of SEIU 1021. "It was a huge day!"

Bryant said that he hopes that this landmark legislation will be replicated throughout the country, "because these workers have faced some of the most challenging conditions  through the pandemic and even prior to the pandemic."

Strong critics of the bill, including the California Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association, have said that this measure would have a chilling effect on franchise businesses, especially as they try to recover economically from the pandemic.

"It just drives entire franchises and franchise brands away from California," said Republican Assembly Member Kelly Seyarto.

"There's no indication that that would necessarily be the outcome," Holden countered. 

Backers of the bill said it provides a crucial platform for more than half a million workers who have long been silenced, "ensuring that their voice is heard," according to Holden.

This legislation now goes to the State Senate for its vote.

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