Measure to repeal California fast food law qualifies for ballot

A California law seeking to raise wages and improve working conditions for fast-food workers has been set aside for now, after state officials said an effort by major restaurant and business groups to overturn the law had qualified as a measure on next year’s ballot.

The referendum seeking to overturn Assembly Bill 257 gathered enough valid voter signatures, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s office confirmed Tuesday. The group of businesses supporting the effort, called Save Local Restaurants, had until Dec. 5 to submit approximately 623,000 California voter signatures. Proponents submitted more than 1 million signatures, of which more than 712,000 were deemed valid, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The announcement means the law, also known as the Fast Recovery Act, approved last year by the Legislature, is suspended until California voters decide on the November 2024 ballot whether to repeal the law.

AB 257 sought to create a first-of-its-kind council of workers, companies, franchisees and government representatives with a mandate to set wages and other workplace standards across the country.

Had the law gone into effect Jan. 1 as planned, the council would have had the authority to raise the minimum hourly wage for fast food workers as high as $22 this year.

Labor campaigners said the legislation could change collective bargaining, setting a precedent in the US for negotiating workplace standards. The coalition of businesses opposing the law, led by the International Franchise Assn. and the National Restaurant Assn., argued that the law would give businesses higher labor costs and increase food prices.

Fast food companies and business groups, including In-N-Out, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, Starbucks and the National Restaurant Assn. donated millions to support the referendum, according to the nonpartisan Commission on Fair Political Practices.

Save Local Restaurants launched its costly petition drive to stop the law almost immediately after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 257 into law on Labor Day.

The signature collection process was full. The Service Employees International Union California, which co-sponsored AB 257 and opposed the referendum campaign, alleged signatures were obtained fraudulently and filed complaints in October with the secretary of state and attorney general’s offices urging action.

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said fast food workers and the union were determined to continue pushing AB 257. “No company is more powerful than half a million workers coming together to demand a seat at the table,” Henry said in an email.

International Franchise Assn. Executive Director Matt Haller said in a statement, “Thankfully, more than 1 million Californians have spoken out to prevent this misguided policy from driving up food prices and destroying local businesses and the jobs they create.”

The Save Local Restaurants coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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