From today’s Politico:
A decadelong quest to organize fast food workers is culminating in the state that gave America McDonald’s and Taco Bell.
A protracted showdown between labor unions and major restaurant chains has extended into the final weeks of California’s legislative session this month, with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office tiptoeing into a battle that could transform a multibillion dollar industry and recharge the American labor movement — in an effort to help the clashing parties reach an agreement.
The Newsom administration has helped to mediate, but they’ve kept quiet as a deal does not appear to be imminent.
Both sides have compelling reasons to stand their ground. Labor sees a breakthrough chance to force corporations to the negotiating table, while the industry sees a fundamental threat that would drive up prices and shutter stores. They are barreling toward a 2024 ballot showdown over a fast food labor law passed last year unless they make a deal.
It is a watershed moment that industry leaders fear could have national ramifications. As a labor stronghold, California may be best positioned to be the first state in the country to deliver the long-elusive goal of unionized fast food workers. But that has unleashed a ferocious counteroffensive from a franchise industry determined to protect its business model and confine the threat to California.
“We’re so close now,” South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer Jean Cohen said recently as striking fast food workers rallied behind her at San Jose City Hall. “We have been successful because we see millions of dollars put into fighting low-wage workers. They’re taking a defensive posture.”
Even as evolving consumer tastes and technology are poised to transform the industry — with customers eschewing dining in and some chains experimenting with artificial intelligence and robots — there are still millions of Americans employed preparing and serving tacos, fried chicken and hamburgers. More than 500,000 of them are in California. Sacramento’s escalating, multi-year fight over fast food labor has led corporations to spend more than $80 million since 2021 to block efforts to regulate pay and address health and safety concerns.
Last year, California narrowly passed the Service Employees International Union’s landmark bill creating a fast food labor council empowered to raise wages and prescribe working conditions. The industry immediately qualified a voter referendum challenging the law, which put it on hold. SEIU responded this year with a bill to clamp down on franchisors — reviving an idea that had been dropped from the 2022 bill — and gained more political leverage by securing funding for a defunct state wage regulator.
Read the complete story here.