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Workers rally at Capitol for bill that could overhaul California's fast food sector

The bill is set to be discussed in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California fast food workers are rallying at the state Capitol for passage of a bill that could lead to a dramatic overhaul of industry standards. It comes ahead of lawmakers returning to Sacramento for the start of their regular session on Monday.

Assembly Bill 257, also known as the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act, would establish a Fast Food Sector Council that would be responsible for creating sector wide minimum standards on wages, working hours and other working conditions related to the health, safety and welfare of fast food workers.

Advocates describe the fight as one for $15 an hour and a union. Supporters say it would give workers a seat at the table and hold large fast-food companies accountable for workplace conditions, according to the political action group Fast Food Justice AHORA!. Backers are largely made up of California labor groups, racial and economic justice groups, faith-based organizations and community leaders. California’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the political action group Fight for $15 are co-sponsors of the bill.

“In more than 200 complaints filed with state and local health agencies, workers have detailed harrowing working conditions such as COVID-19 outbreaks in their stores, being asked to wear doggie diapers or coffee filters as masks, not receiving paid sick days, and being forced to work sick under threat of retaliation,” according to Fast Food Justice, who describes the industry as one “rife with abuse and labor violations.”

Carmichael resident Crystal Orozco has worked in the fast food industry for 15 years and currently works at a McDonald’s.

“This will give us the opportunity to able to say something and do something about what’s going on in the workplace and not have to worry about getting punished for it,” Orozco said.

The opposition argues AB 257 is misleadingly directed at corporations, but will have far-reaching consequences that would hurt small businesses, and lead to menu price increases at fast-food businesses across the state, according to Stop AB 257. The political action group is made up of dozens of Chambers of Commerce, small business owners, restaurateurs and consumers.

“It’s the WRONG time for legislators to raise costs on small business owners and counter-service restaurants still recovering from pandemic losses and the WRONG time to raise prices on consumers suffering from high gas costs, increased food prices and housing affordability,” Stop AB 257 wrote on its website. “The sector council created by AB 257 will limit opportunities for employees and kill local jobs in the foodservice industry, including an enormous and diverse range of local establishments like juice and smoothie bars, frozen yogurt shops, salad bars, bakeries, coffee shops, taquerias, sushi counters, delis, pizzerias, burger houses and more.”

Operating under the Department of Industrial Relations, the 13 member council would be appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee.

If passed, the bill would define what is considered a fast food restaurant, including that the establishment is part of a set of restaurants consisting of 30 or more establishments national that share a common brand.

“We’re just asking for this bill to pass so we can be respected and protected,” said Mysheka Ronquillo, a Carl's Jr. employee.

The bill was introduced last January in 2021 and was passed in the assembly. The bill is set to be discussed in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday.

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