Editorial: Give fast-food workers some say on the job

The unions have a moment.

After high-profile efforts last year to Organize workers at Starbucks cafes & Amazon warehouse, Retail workers across the country have voted to join unions for the first time. It just happened to one this summer Apple store in Maryland, REI stores in New York City and Berkeley and Trader Joe’s Markets in Massachusetts and Minnesota.

But fast-food workers have been largely excluded from the current trend toward unionizing low-wage workers, even though they may need it more urgently. The low pay and unpredictable hours typical of fast food outlets have understandably prompted these workers to demand more say over their working conditions. According to the study, California fast-food workers make 85 cents on the dollar compared to service workers in the state’s chain stores a study by researchers with Harvard and UC San Francisco – a difference that amounts to almost $6,000 per year. Fast-food workers in California make about $31,050 a year, the report said not enough to get by in this expensive condition. Also, than other service workers, fast food workers are more likely to change their hours at the last minute, making it difficult to organize childcare, go to school, or have an extra job.

These workers, most of whom are women and people of color, deserve a way to achieve more stability and better pay. But the franchise business model common in fast-food restaurants — splitting ownership across numerous locations that share the same brand name — has made it difficult for workers to organize unions. Under a federal labor rule introduced during the Trump administration, the parent company typically has no obligation to negotiate with a franchisee’s workers.

So California is about to experiment with a new system – a nationwide council composed of fast food workers, franchisees and franchisors that would set minimum standards for wages, hours and working conditions for people working in restaurants with at least 100 locations nationwide. It’s not directly forming a union for fast-food workers, but is preparing the groundwork for that opportunity down the line. Lawmakers sent that proposal to Gov. Gavin Newsom Assembly Act 257. He should sign it into law and give fast-food workers a voice in shaping the conditions of their industry across the state.

Fast-food restaurants have predictably lobbied against the bill, saying they would increase their costs, expose them to additional lawsuits and force them to raise their prices. But in the last week lawmakers made important concessions that should address the industry’s biggest concerns while still giving workers a meaningful opportunity to better their lot. They scraped part of the bill that would have allowed workers to sue not only the owner of their local franchise but also the parent company. And they added a cap on the potential pay rise to $22 an hour next year — a significant increase from the average $16.21 an hour most California fast-food workers make now, but always yet another guard rail for business owners to plan around.

Will the prices of burgers, fries, pizza and tacos go up? It is possible. The gastronomy published a report from the UC Riverside Center for Economic Forecast and Development that fast food restaurants would have to raise prices between 7% and 22% under the earlier version of the law. But the addition of a cap on wage increases should mitigate the need for drastic price hikes.

Right now, a bacon cheeseburger at a Burger King in California typically costs $1.91. according to the Fast Food Menu Prices website. Taco Bell sells its Beefy 5-Layer Burrito for $2.16, while Chick-Fil-A sells a chicken sandwich for $3.90. Even if restaurants raise prices moderately, fast food will remain a cost-effective option. And when customers paying pennies more for a sandwich allow fast-food workers to keep their lights on at home, avoid an eviction or off food stamps, it’s money well spent. Full-time workers should earn enough to make ends meet.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-09-01/editorial-newsom-give-fast-food-workers-more-say-unions Editorial: Give fast-food workers some say on the job

Alley Einstein

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