Labor rights activists use west coast heat to push for more say over fast food wages


Labor rights advocates have used the west coast heat wave as a way to rally support to give California fast food workers considerable leverage in setting state wage and labor standards for national fast food chains.

If the effort is successful and the proposed legislation is passed, the state’s quick-service workforce would have an important role to play in determining what arrangements the chains should make for income, safety, training and comfort of employees of Californian units.

The legislation would also codify that restaurant franchisors are joint employers of franchisee staff, making large, deep-pocketed chains accountable for the policies and practices of licensees in the workplace. Franchisors could be sued or fined along with franchisees for violations of state labor standards.

The bill, called the Fast Food Restaurant Responsibility and Restoration Act, would establish an 11-person fast food industry council to establish and review workplace standards in the state’s fast food market.

Two seats would be occupied by fast food workers and two more seats would be allocated to union representatives or other labor rights defenders. One seat would be occupied by a franchised restaurant and another by a franchised restaurant. The remaining five seats are said to be held by officials from various government labor and workplace regulatory bodies.

The council would have broad authority to set standards for wages, training, and working conditions such as kitchen and dining room temperatures. The so-called Fast Act would also allow communities of at least 200,000 people to set up a committee version and set local standards that reflect the cost of living in the market.

The state-level council would be required to hold hearings on industry conditions every six months and to review all labor regulations relating to the fast food market at least every three years. Its rulings and guidelines would apply only to California chain units with at least 30 restaurants nationwide.

The Council would have the power to issue subpoenas as part of its review power.

In cases where council regulations conflict with state workplace rules, the former would take precedence, but only for the fast food industry. The requirements set by the committee would not bind full-service restaurants and other workplaces.

The Fast Act was introduced in January but found no resonance. It is technically “inactive”, in legislative parlance for “on the back burner for the moment”.

Fight for $ 15 and a union, an advocacy group backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is trying to build public support for the measure by citing cases where fast food workers say they have been forced to work without adequate air conditioning. The public relations effort comes as an unprecedented heat wave grips the west coast, with temperatures registering well over 100 degrees.

The group is holding a protest today at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Sacramento. The fight for $ 15 says the unit’s air conditioning was not working from June 14 to 20, when temperatures hit 109 degrees. The situation has already prompted store employees to file a complaint with a state public health agency.

The fight for $ 15 also puts a spotlight on a Los Angeles McDonald’s unit that is said to have remained in business despite the air conditioning breaking down for a 90-degree period.

The adoption of the Fast Act would make it possible to maintain wage growth without resorting to legislation or a referendum each time. It would also be a roundabout way of classifying franchisors as co-employers of franchisee employees, a development that the franchise community has been fighting for at least six years at the national level.


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