Fast-food workers to rally in LA, protesting unsafe working conditions – San Bernardino Sun

Hundreds of fast-food workers who say they’re enduring wage theft and unsafe work conditions plan to gather at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, June, 9, seeking support for a bill that proposes new regulations for the industry.

The noon event is part of a statewide, one-day rally among fast-food employees.

Assembly Bill 257, also known as the “FAST Food Recovery Act,” would create a state-run council to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for the more than 700,000 fast-food workers in California.

The measure was approved by the state Assembly in January and is scheduled to be heard next week in the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee.

Supported by community allies and labor leaders in Los Angeles, the Southern California employees plan to speak out Thursday on wage theft, violence, harassment and discrimination they contend take place on the job.

The Service Employees International Union is pushing for passage of AB 257 as part of its “Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign. Los Angeles adopted a $15 minimum wage in 2015 and California followed suit in 2016, but unionization in the industry has been elusive.

Opposition to the bill

Some are not so quick to support AB 257.

The California Restaurant Association says California has some of the nation’s strictest worker protection laws. The organization said the state should instead fund its backlogged wage theft and workplace violation investigators.

“We believe the system is set up to be robust and protective,” association spokesman Matt Sutton said. “There’s a pathway for people, and they use it all the time.”

Franchisors and franchisees say AB 257 is unnecessary and burdensome and would raise prices for working-class customers.

“Inflation is top of mind for everybody,” said Jeff Hanscom, a spokesman for the International Franchise Association, which represents corporations and franchisees. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

‘It’s not enough to pay my bills’

The workers continue to demand wage hikes to keep up with the rising cost of living in California.

Laura Pozos, who works at a McDonald’s in Los Angeles, said the $16 an hour she earns isn’t enough.

“They’ve cut our hours,” the 59-year-old East Los Angeles resident said. “I work 33 to 34 hours a week and it’s not enough to pay my bills. My light bill alone is $200 a month. These are miserable wages.”

Pozos said she’s also experienced discrimination at her job.

“There is favoritism in our workplace,” she said. “Some workers are getting 40 hours a week, but others don’t.”

Representatives with McDonald’s could not be reached for comment on the workers’ concerns. But the company addressed similar allegations during another statewide rally among fast-food workers in November 2021.

“We’re disappointed to hear these allegations, which do not reflect the positive and safe work environment we and our franchisees have fostered for crew in more than 14,000 restaurants across the country,” the company said in a statement

Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who co-authored AB 257, said his legislation would have far-reaching impacts.

“This bill would make a big difference for a lot of folks out there, many of which are too afraid to use their voices because they have a lot to lose — their jobs,” Holden said when the bill passed the Assembly in January. “Employees should not have to choose between safe working conditions and their livelihood.”

If approved, AB 257 would:

— Create a statewide council  comprised of workers and government and industry representatives to set minimum health, safety and employment standards across California’s fast food industry

— Allow franchisees to push back if franchisors boost costs to comply with wage and safety standards

— Require fast food companies to ensure that all of their restaurants and franchisees have the resources they need to operate safely and in compliance with the law

Holden said the legislation would also enhance local, state, and federal laws and regulations aimed at protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19.

Industry statistics

A January 2022 report from the UCLA Labor Center notes that even before COVID-19, fast-food workers in Los Angeles County faced “disproportionately high rates of injury, workplace violence, harassment, retaliation and wage theft.”

Half of the workers surveyed said the number of employer-provided masks or gloves to guard against the spread of COVID-19 was insufficient or provided too infrequently. Nearly 40% purchased their own masks or gloves, the report said, and more than one in 10 needed the supplies but could not afford to buy their own.

Another May 2022 survey from SEIU revealed that 85% of the 410 fast-food workers canvassed from 259 locations in California said they have experienced some form of wage theft.

Fifty-seven percent said they were victims of multiple forms of wage theft, the report said, and a third of those surveyed said they suffered retaliation for asking to be paid properly, taking a sick day or asking to be paid for a sick day.

“The global fast-food corporations that operate in California make billions of dollars in profits, yet fast-food workers rank among California’s lowest-paid large occupational groups,” the report said.

CalMatters contributed to this report.

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