OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce is opposing a bill proposed earlier this year by a San Diego lawmaker that aims to raise workplace standards for fast food workers, claiming that the bill instead will hurt small, local business owners.
In January, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act in response to poor working conditions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, The Los Angeles Times reported that there were more than 200 complaints filed with state and local health agencies in which workers described virus outbreaks in stores, being asked to wear doggie diapers or coffee filters as masks, and being forced to work while sick.
Fast-food workers have also been facing other issues like workplace violence, sexual assault and wage theft for quite some time.
According to a nationwide study conducted by Hart Research Associates, 40% of women in the fast-food industry have experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job, including 28% who have experienced multiple forms of harassment.
A survey from the Los Angeles Times found that about 89% of respondents were forced to do off-the-book work, were denied breaks or were refused overtime pay.
“California’s fast-food workers face overlapping crises of wage theft, sexual harassment, unsafe workplace conditions, and some of the lowest wages of any occupation group in the state,” Gonzalez wrote in a legislative analysis of her bill. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the unacceptable working conditions that have gone unchecked for years in the fast-food industry.”
The bill would establish the Fast Food Sector Council, which would conduct a review on fast food restaurant health, safety and employment standards every three years, hold public hearings every six months, and establish industry-wide minimum health, safety, wage, working hours and employment standards.
The council would be comprised of 11 members appointed by the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate Rules Committee. According to Gonzalez, the council would include workers, state agencies and fast food industry representatives.
The bill also prevents fast-food franchisees from retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint regarding workplace safety, participating in a proceeding related to public health and safety, or refusing to do work that would be considered unsafe.
Additionally, the bill also requires a fast food restaurant franchisor to make sure its franchisees comply with worker and public health laws, including those standards that would be issued by the Council. It also makes the franchisor jointly liable for any penalties or fines for a violation the franchisee receives.
“Essentially the national brands, instead of Oceanside-area franchise owners, would be responsible for business functions outside their control,” said Scott Ashton, chief executive officer of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. “This legislation would upend the franchise model and it is certain to discourage future franchise ownership.”
In a letter detailing his and the Chamber’s opposition to the bill, Ashton explained his disapproval of an “unelected state-level council” taking away authority from franchisees and further bogging down franchisees with more “inconsistent and contradictory regulations.”
According to Gonzalez, fast food workers must have the authority to set their own workplace standards and to hold their employers accountable without facing retaliation.
“While multi-billion dollar fast food corporations are collecting record profits during the pandemic, their workers are paid dismally low wages, put their health on the line to serve customers, are denied paid sick leave, and have been forced to compromise their safety at work,” Gonzalez said. “This bill will give fast-food workers at large fast-food establishments the ability to shape industry-wide workplace standards through the establishment of the Fast Food Sector Council.”
The Service Employees International Union of California is co-sponsoring this bill while the International Franchise Association, California Restaurant Association and the California Chamber of Commerce have come out against the bill.
The bill was read three times before it was refused passage on June 3. Reconsideration of the bill was granted later that same month, and Gonzalez ordered the bill to inactive file at the end of June. This means that for now, the bill is dormant, but its author can take it up again at a later date.
The Coast News contacted Gonzalez’s office for comment but has not received a response.