A Sacramento Superior Court judge has placed a temporary hold on a bill aimed at boosting wages and protections for California’s fast-food workers, which had been set to go into effect Jan. 1.
The Dec. 30 order prevents the law from being implemented until the court has a chance to hear the case and decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13.
The move comes in response to a Dec. 29 lawsuit filed by Save Local Restaurants, which seeks to prevent the state Department of Industrial Relations from implementing the law while signatures are being verified for a referendum that would put it on hold until November 2024 when voters can decide the outcome.
The coalition of restaurant and business trade groups is adamantly opposed to Assembly Bill 257, also known as the FAST Recovery Act. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation, authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, on Sept. 5, 2022.
“Over 1 million Californians have made clear they want their say on this flawed measure, which would raise food prices and cost their communities needed jobs,” the group said recently.
The coalition says it has gathered more than 1 million signatures opposing the implementation of AB 257. It needed 623,000 signatures by Sunday, Dec. 4. The state has until Jan. 25 to verify the signatures.
If the court decides on Jan. 13 that the law can move forward, AB 257 could potentially take effect. But California Secretary of State Shirley Weber will also determine whether or not there are enough signatures to halt it until the November 2024 referendum.
In a Dec. 27 declaration, Katie Hagen, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, said her agency was ready to enact AB 257.
“If and when the referendum challenging AB 257 qualifies for the ballot, the law will be put on hold,” Hagen wrote. “But in the absence of clear authority providing that AB 257 is suspended merely upon submission of unverified signatures, DIR has an obligation to proceed with implementing the duly enacted statute.”
AB 257 opponents have argued that, as the referendum process is well underway, it renders the law unenforceable. They also fear implementation of the law would undermine California’s referendum process.
“The state Constitution guarantees a process for voters to reconsider laws passed by their legislature,” Sean Kennedy, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “The DIR’s disregard for the rule of law is an insult to the democratic process.”
What it would do
AB 257 would create a 10-person, state-run council to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for the more than half a million fast-food workers in California.
It would require the signatures of 10,000 fast-food employees to move forward once AB 257 takes effect.
The bill is designed to help workers who often struggle to make ends meet. It would also address wage theft, harassment, discrimination and unsafe work conditions fast-food workers say they face on the job
An Oct. 15 report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center shows that people working fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. One in five families with a member holding a fast-food job has an income below the poverty line, the study said.
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Nearly 80% of the state’s fast-food workers are people of color, and more than 60% are Latino/Latina and two-thirds are women.
Another report supported by opponents suggests AB 257 could push higher prices onto consumers by as much as 20%.
Christopher Thornberg, director of the UC Riverside Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development, last year said increased costs associated with AB 257 would hit low-income consumers the hardest.
“If the FAST Act passes, we can expect a very sharp increase in food costs from the affected restaurants, and that could push these families to the breaking point, given the financial pressures working families already feel from rising rents, gas and other necessities,” he said.