In the fast food industry, restaurants face stiff competition for customers. Therefore, fast food chains often look for ways to cut costs to remain profitable and stay competitive. One way is to pay their workers less. In many fast food chains in California and across the country, this has meant paying wages that are too low to support a family, let alone put one together. However, there are many initiatives from workers and consumers alike that have raised awareness of this issue and supported legislative changes. The result is a substantial increase in the minimum wage fast food workers receive. Read on to learn more about the California minimum wage for fast food employees, as well as some of the campaigns that have led to these changes.
What Is the Current California Minimum Wage for Fast Food Workers?
California's minimum wage first increase in recent years was on January 1, 2019 to $12.00 an hour for workers in all industries. The state's minimum wage then increased to $15 an hour on January 1, 2022 for workers in all industries. This wage increase was part of a law that Governor Brown signed in 2017, making California the first state in the country to set a specific timeline for increasing its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees were given an extra year to comply with the new law. For tipped employees, the minimum wage remained at $11 an hour.
On September 5, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law bill AB 257. Labeled the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act or FAST Recovery Act the bill would establish, until January 1, 2029, the Fast Food Council within the Department of Industrial Relations, to be composed of 10 members to be appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Rules Committee, and would prescribe its powers. The council will have the authority to set minimum wage to $22 in 2023 for fast food employers with 100 or more locations nationally.
History of The Raise The Minimum Wage Movement
Some activists and researchers say the movement to improve wages in the fast food restaurant industry first started in the mid-1960s when the black community marched in Selma, Alabama, to fight for civil rights. The struggle for higher wages in the fast food industry has continued through the years, with many workers fighting for a minimum wage that is livable. The movement reached a climax in 2012 with the "Fight for 15" campaign. The campaign quickly gained momentum as thousands of workers participated in nationwide strikes, protests, and other activities in favor of a $15 minimum wage for all fast food workers. The campaign has attracted widespread attention from the media and politicians, who have been forced to take action and make legislative changes due to the increasing pressure from the public.
Minimum Wage Protests and Strikes
Many workers in the fast food industry have fought for a higher minimum wage. While some have engaged in peaceful protests, others have taken more drastic actions to get their message across. In 2013, about 100 fast food workers in New York City walked off their jobs and protested in front of New York’s City Hall. The crowd was composed of workers from chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and KFC. They chanted slogans such as “We can’t survive on $7.25” and “Strike! Strike! Strike!” In 2015, thousands of workers from multiple cities across the country went on strike. Workers staged a two-day walkout at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC locations in New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and other cities. They also held protests outside the chains’ corporate headquarters and other locations. During the protests, workers and their supporters marched, chanted, and held signs and banners with messages like “hold the burger, hold the fries, make our wages supersized” and “no one deserves a $9 burger.”
California Law as Model for Other U.S States
In California, the pressure from the public and workers’ movements eventually led to the passage of the SB 3 bill, which increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour starting January 1, 2022. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law in April 2018 that gradually increased the minimum wage for fast food workers and other workers in the state. The New York law increased the minimum wage from $9.70 an hour to $15 an hour over a period of three years, with the first increase starting December 2017.
FAST Recovery Act Provides a Stronger Voice and Seat at The Table to Set Fair Wages
In response to these alarming trends, fast-food chains took steps to increase their minimum hourly wages and improve their business practices. While these commitments signal a shift toward valuing workers as key partners rather than disposable employees, it's not enough.
The fast food industry is one of the most competitive and profitable industries in the U.S. Despite this, many employers are paying their workers extremely low wages. In California and other states, pressure from workers and the public has led to the passage of laws increasing the minimum wage for fast food restaurant workers. This is good news for the millions of workers who have been struggling to make ends meet while making the minimum wage. Employers and employees alike can expect to see many benefits as a result of this wage increase, including increased business at fast food chains and decreased operational costs for the employers. Now that the minimum wage has increased for fast food workers, it is important for these employees to know their rights. Fast food restaurant workers now have more power to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, and managers and business owners must respect their rights.