California restaurants gather 1 million signatures to challenge new fast-food labor law

Sandra Jauregui, center, a fast-food worker for 14 years, and other workers in the industry rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento in November, demanding that fast-food companies such as McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle stop seeking to repeal Assembly Bill 257, which creates a government-run labor council for the industry. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com)

A restaurant business coalition announced on Monday that it has gathered enough signatures to challenge a new California law that would create a state-backed labor council to set pay and working conditions for the fast-food industry.

Save Local Restaurants, a coalition opposing the law, said it filed more than 1 million signatures to postpone the law and place a referendum on the November 2024 ballot.

Counties will now have eight business days to provide a count to the secretary of state’s office. Opponents need roughly 623,000 valid signatures.

If the statewide total reaches the required amount, counties will have 30 business days to verify signatures through random sampling. Sufficient valid voter signatures would place a question on the 2024 ballot asking voters whether the law should take effect.

It could also lead to a costly battle between organized labor and the fast food industry, with spending reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. Save Local Restaurants raised more than $13.7 million between last January and September. Corporate brands, including Starbucks, Chipotle and McDonald’s have each given $2 million.

The law, known as the FAST Recovery Act, would create a first-in-the-nation labor council to set wages and working standards for fast food workers. The council’s regulations would apply to any chain restaurant with at least 100 locations in the United States and could set minimum wages at $22 an hour for fast food workers by next year.

The law was set to take effect Jan. 1 after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation last September. But one day later, opponents filed a referendum to halt the formation of the council. They argue the law would result in higher food prices and new regulatory burdens for franchise owners.

“The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should stand...it is no surprise that over one million Californians have voiced their concerns with the legislation,” the coalition said in a statement. ”

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Supporters say the law would give workers a voice in regulating a sector of the state economy that employs more than a half-million people.

Service Employees International Union, which has been supporting the fast-food workers, said companies are “trying to silence voices of half a million Black and Latino workers to increase their billion-dollar profits.”

“It is abhorrent that these corporations have already spent millions of dollars in an attempt to deliberately mislead California voters and stamp out the progress fast-food workers have won, said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. “California’s referendum process has been completely taken over by corporations who think they can buy the right to overturn laws they don’t like and exempt themselves from accountability.”

SEIU filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office and California’s secretary of state in October. The union alleged the coalition violated state election rules and “willfully” misled into signing the referendum petition. In videos taken by SEIU organizers, signature gatherers can be heard falsely telling people that by signing the petition, they’ll help increase the minimum wage to $22 an hour for workers.

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