In 2012, 200 fast-food workers walked off the job in New York City. They were spearheading the Fight for $15 campaign, and demanding union representation and wage increases. Nearly 15 years later, fast-food workers across the country continue to organize and advocate for better working conditions, pay, and representation. In California, progress is being made.

In September of 2023, a new California law established a state Fast-Food Council. The council, made up of nine members, will be in charge of setting workplace safety and compensation standards. Members of the council include fast-food employees, labor advocates, and fast-food industry representatives. At the end of 2023, through the fast-food council, fast-food labor advocates and the fast-food industry reached a settlement agreement. The terms of the settlement include raising the minimum wage of fast-food employees working at chains with over 60-locations to $20 per hour. This will impact some 500,000 California employees. The wage increase is scheduled to go into effect on April 1, 2024. $20 per hour is significantly higher than the state minimum wage, which is currently at $16 per hour.

On February 9, 2024, the California Fast Food Workers Union (FFWU) hosted their membership launch. The new union, focusing its representation on fast-food workers, is the first of its kind in the U.S. Unlike traditional unions, the California Fast Food Workers Union is for now a “minority-union,” only able to directly represent a small share of fast-food workers in California. While it will be able to directly represent thousands of fast-food workers in California, the union will be able to advocate for all fast-food workers statewide in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union.

The FFWU’s stated priorities include raising the minimum wage for all fast-food employees throughout the state by 3.5% and establishing rules that govern employee schedules, ensuring that employees are able to work enough hours to make a livable wage. FFWU will also prioritize protecting workers from being fired without valid reason, and protecting workers who are experiencing retaliation for their participation in organizing efforts.

The momentum in California is a big win for workers. The fast-food industry is rife with poor working conditions, low pay, few benefits, frequent wage violations, and commonplace harassment. California’s fast-food workers have historically earned some of the lowest wages in the state, second only to farmworkers (when considering occupations with more than 100,000 workers). Only around 13% of fast food employees receive health benefits through their jobs. According to some measures, around 89% of fast food employees reported being subject to violations of workplace laws (such as being refused overtime pay or proper meal and rest breaks). Another survey showed that ¾ of female fast-food employees reported experiencing harassment at work.

In California, 60% of fast-food employees are Latinx, 80% are non-white, 65% are women, and 20% have children. Continued work is needed in order to give fast-food industry employees appropriate pay, working conditions, and workplace benefits. The creation of the state Fast-Food Council and the Fast Food Workers Union is a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead to increased progress for fast-food workers in the state. The progress that has been made in California is an inspiring reminder of the power of organization and collective action in the struggle for employee rights. 

Navruz Avloni is committed to advocating for employees whose rights are being violated. If you work in the fast-food industry and have experienced pay violations, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, reach out to Avloni Law for a free consultation.