Cooks and cashiers gather in Oakland after first meeting of new state Fast Food Council

Following heartbreaking testimony from several employees of McDonalds, Wendy’s and other restaurant chains at the first-ever meeting of California’s new Fast Food Council, workers rallied outside the Elihu M. Harris State Building on Friday in Oakland.

Formed by Assembly Bill 1228 and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2023, the new board will establish statewide procedures for adopting and revising health, safety and and employment of fast food restaurants. It will operate until January 1, 2029, and will have limited rule-making powers.

The board will govern restaurants owned by chains with 60 or more locations nationwide. It is part of the Department of Industrial Relations, a state employment agency, and will include two fast food workers, two franchisees, two fast food company representatives and one neutral member of the public.

The hope is to establish a vertical line of communication about working conditions, in an industry where business leaders can be alienated from conditions within independent franchises.

The law provided for an increase in wages. Starting in April, fast food workers will see an increase in the minimum wage to $20 an hour. That’s above the state’s new level of $16 an hour, which took effect Jan. 1. According to the California Fast Food Workers Union, there are approximately half a million of these workers in California’s food industry.

Although new, the law prohibits owners of a fast food restaurant from retaliating against their employees who participate in the board. Many workers who testified at Friday’s meeting described employers retaliating by reducing their hours before the hike. Their testimony also described abuse and emotional suffering among employees.

“I’ve worked for McDonald’s for 18 years,” an older woman said through a Spanish translator. “I was humiliated because of breast cancer. Throughout chemotherapy, I didn’t stop working. I didn’t lose a day of work.”

She describes being sent outside into the cold to mop the floors because she had no hair, even though she asked to stay inside where it was warmer.

“I saw the documents and I saw that they took hours off my pay,” she said through tears. “They gave me three or four hours of work, and they also took my half-hour break. My manager told me, ‘I can’t give you hours because you can’t cook the apples I’m not going to give you hours because the only thing you’re good at is making burritos and cheese. That’s all you’re good for.'”

After public comment, some of the new board members responded to the speakers, including Richard Reinis, a corporate litigator representing various franchises, including Krispy Kreme donuts.

“I want you to know that we are here to learn,” Reinis said. “We’re not know-it-all people, and we listen. That’s the purpose of my efforts here today, to hear what you have to say, listen to it, interpret it, and hopefully , recommend it to the Legislature and the Department of Labor are making changes that will improve your lives. But we can only do that by hearing your voices.

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