If there were an annual awards banquet for Worst Ideas Introduced in Legislation, California would certainly dominate the competition every year, and this year, a bill threatening to turn the government into a labor union for fast food employees might very well win the top trophy.
Assembly Bill 257 is titled the “Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act.” It would establish a “Fast Food Sector Council” of 11 government appointees tasked with regularly reviewing the “adequacy” of health, safety and employment standards in fast food restaurants, and then “establishing sectorwide minimum health, safety, wage, working hours and employment standards.”
These standards, which would apply only to fast food restaurants, would expose both the franchisees and the franchisors to fines and other enforcement actions by the state’s labor commissioner. The law would makes it easier for employees to sue if they think they were “discharged, discriminated or retaliated against for exercising their rights,” and it authorizes the labor commissioner to take action against employers even without an employee complaint.
The bill is co-sponsored by the California State Council of Service Employees International Union and by Fight for 15, which has been organizing walk-outs by fast food workers since 2012.
The new “sector council” would be empowered to write new standards for fast food employment, exactly as a union’s contract negotiating committee would, but with one significant difference: the sector council’s demands would be enforced by the California state government, not negotiated at the bargaining table. The “standards,” the equivalent of contract demands, would be implemented with government force.
Fast food restaurants already operate under robust laws and regulations. The labor commissioner is already empowered to investigate employee complaints and enforce the laws against wage theft and other abuses. Restaurants are already required to comply with the occupational safety and health regulations enforced by Cal/OSHA, the health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities spelled out in the California Retail Food Code, the regulations of the California Department of Public Health and the requirements of local health departments.
Restaurants, including fast food restaurants, are struggling after two years of pandemic restrictions, and many didn’t make it through alive. Now the survivors are contending with a labor shortage, supply chain disruptions and ruinous inflation that is squeezing profit margins even as higher prices threaten to drive away customers. AB 257 would add a new state “council” that would continuously add more regulations and mandates onto this beleaguered industry.
Although activists like to point to the corporate headquarters of well-known fast food brands, franchisees are generally small business owners. A franchisor such as McDonald’s doesn’t have control of every business decision made by a restaurant owner. But AB 257 seeks to hold “billion dollar companies” such as McDonald’s “accountable” for “workplace injustices” as defined by the sector council, over and above the requirements of current law that apply to other businesses.
California is regularly cited in business publications as one of the worst states in which to do business, with high taxes, excessive regulation and laws that enable frivolous lawsuits. AB 257 is over the top, even for California. The state Senate should kill this bill, quickly, before the threat of this additional and needless regulation drives any more business owners to close their doors permanently.