Californians Put Fast Food Law On 2024 Ballot

Pencil in the date: Nov. 5, 2024. That’s the date that California voters could change the destiny of fast food not just in the Golden State but across the US. 

In a big victory for the fast food industry, California’s secretary of state announced late last month that enough signatures were collected to trigger a statewide referendum on the landmark Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act. The law, AB 257, was hailed as groundbreaking by labor advocates as a way to improve working conditions in the fast-food industry when it was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

The measure would have raised employee wages to as much as $22 an hour by the end of this year for chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks that have 100 or more outlets nationwide. California’s current minimum wage for all workers is $15.50 an hour. The law affects more than a half-million fast food workers.

The newly schedule vote for 2024 comes on the heels of a referendum that raised more than 623,000 valid voter signatures. The initiative could overturn a first-in-the-nation law passed last year.

The law also establishes a 10-member council empowered to set minimum wages and standards for hours and working conditions for California’s fast-food workers. Two industry groups, the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association, promoted the referendum that would leave its fate to voters. Opponents, who raised more than $10 million last year to fund the referendum campaign, argue that the law would burden owners of chain restaurant franchises and drive up the cost of food.

The law was temporarily blocked from taking effect in December by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge while ballot signatures were counted and verified.

The Service Employees International Union remained confident that the law will survive the election.  “Despite fast food corporations’ efforts to distort the referendum process, we know California voters see through their tricks,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henderson said. “No corporation is more powerful than half a million workers joining together to demand a seat at the table.”

 The fast-food industry, which has argued the law would put restaurants out of business, and trigger more inflation, celebrated the referendum in a raft of statements.

“We’re pleased that Californians will get the chance to exercise their constitutional right to vote on this law and will continue to support the operators, small business owners, and workers that make the restaurant industry so important to our customers’ lives,” Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.

Advocates said they’ll keep fighting for its passage: “Despite fast-food corporations’ efforts to distort the referendum process, we know California voters see through their tricks,” Mary Kay Henry, president, Service Employees International Union, said. 

Both sides are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to entice voters in the referendum fight. Opponents spent nearly $14 million on the ballot measure to challenge the law, per California state records.

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