New Fast-Food Wage Cheered

By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 28, 2023 4:40 PM CDT
New Fast-Food Wage Cheered
Anneisha Williams, right, and other fast-food workers celebrate the minimum wage law just signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A new law in California will raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 per hour next year, an acknowledgment from the state's Democratic leaders that most of the often-overlooked workforce are the primary earners for their low-income households. When it takes effect on April 1, fast-food workers in California will have the highest guaranteed base salary in the industry, the AP reports. The state's minimum wage for all other workers—$15.50 per hour—is already among the highest in the US. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law Thursday amid cheering workers and labor leaders in Los Angeles. Newsom dismissed the popular view that fast-food jobs are meant for teenagers to have their first experience in the workforce.

"That's a romanticized version of a world that doesn't exist," Newsom said. "We have the opportunity to reward that contribution, reward that sacrifice and stabilize an industry." Newsom's signature reflects the power and influence of labor unions in the nation's most populous state, which have worked to organize fast-food workers in an attempt to improve their wages and working conditions. It also settles—for now, at least—a fight between labor and business groups over how to regulate the industry. In exchange for higher pay, labor unions have dropped their attempt to make fast-food corporations liable for the misdeeds of their independent franchise operators in California, an action that could have upended the business model on which the industry is based. The industry, meanwhile, has agreed to pull a referendum related to worker wages off the 2024 ballot.

The moment was almost too much for Anneisha Williams, who held back tears as she spoke during a news conference just before Newsom signed the bill. Williams, a mother of six, works at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Inglewood. "They've been with me on the picket line, and they've been marching with me as well," Williams said of her children. "This is for them." Newsom signing the law could win back some favor with organized labor, which sharply criticized him last week for vetoing a separate bill aimed at protecting the jobs of truck drivers amid the rise of self-driving technology. The new minimum wage for fast-food workers will apply to restaurants with at least 60 locations nationwide, per the AP, with an exception for restaurants that make and sell their own bread, like Panera Bread.

story continues below

Right now, California's fast-food workers earn an average of $16.60 per hour, or just over $34,000 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's below the California Poverty Measure for a family of four, a statistic calculated by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Equality that accounts for housing costs and publicly funded benefits. The new $20 minimum wage is just a starting point. The law creates a Fast Food Council that has the power to increase that wage each year through 2029 by 3.5% or the change in averages for the US Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, whichever is lower.

(More fast-food industry stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.