This week’s Senate passage of the California FAST Recovery Act, AB257, marks a historic breakthrough for workers and state labor policymaking with far-reaching national implications. As EPI and the National Employment Law Project noted in a statement endorsed by forty organizations earlier this year, AB257 “is important for workers across the country and for shaping the future of our national economy. The state of California has a long history of leading the way on workers’ rights and worker protections, including becoming the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage in 2016—a breakthrough that paved the way for states across the country to take similar action.” 

Jennifer Sherer, Economic Policy Institute

AB257 was designed to address poverty wages and widespread worker rights violations that have resulted from extremely unequal bargaining power between fast food workers and employers across the industry. If signed into law by Governor Newsom, the legislation will give workers a seat at the policymaking table to engage as equals with franchisees, franchisors, and government agencies through a 10-member Fast Food Sector Council with authority to set statewide minimum wages and standards across the industry. Standards set by the new council will have a direct impact on over 550,000 California fast food workers, over 80% of whom are workers of color and two-thirds of whom are women. 

California fast-food workers fought hard for this breakthrough, organizing for nearly a decade with the Fight for $15 and a Union to demand higher wages, safer workplaces, and a strong voice on the job. In the past year alone, workers led more than 300 strikes and protests across the state, sounding the alarm on an industry in crisis and standing up against egregious workplace violations like wage theftsexual harassmentracial discriminationretaliation for organizing, and health and safety hazards.  

Changes to the final bill leave room for future legislation to further strengthen workplace protections for fast-food workers in California and across the country. The final bill passed today excludes provisions designed to address corporate fast food chains’ use of the franchise system,  abetted by weak federal employment laws, to profit from exploitative conditions while avoiding accountability for violations of workplace laws. The bill’s innovative original proposals to make franchisors jointly responsible for upholding standards and jointly liable for worker rights violations will remain priorities in California and other states considering legislation to create sectoral councils in franchised industries.  

AB257 is an important model for state leaders across the country to address the systemic roots of racial, gender, and economic inequality. Empowering workers to help shape statewide standards for work with dignity, safety, and fair pay is an essential step toward transforming an industry known for poverty-wage, hazardous jobs. The legislation is also an important acknowledgment that our federal labor law, which is supposed to protect the rights of private sector workers to organize, is broken, and that while we continue to press for federal labor law reform we urgently need state and local leaders to enact policies that help workers build power. The passage of AB257 is a tremendous victory worth celebrating and a breakthrough worth building on in other states and other industries.

Jennifer Sherer is senior state policy coordinator for the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) Worker Power Project at the Economic Policy Institute.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. www.epi.or