California’s FAST Act, legislation calling for a statewide council to monitor fast-food workers, could be in the hands of voters.

The Save Local Restaurants Coalition, which involves the National Restaurant Association, International Franchise Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the November 2024 ballot. The presidential election will also be on this ballot, which likely means a much higher voter turnout. If the California Secretary of State verifies the signatures, implementation of the FAST ACT would be suspended. Raw counts from each county are expected to be submitted no later than next Monday, which would freeze the law, according to the International Franchise Association. A random sample verification process will then start and take as many as 30 days.

The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, is supposed to create a 10-member council appointed by the governor and certain legislators. The group would include two fast-food franchisors, two franchisees, two employees, two advocates of workers rights, one representative from the Department of Industrial Relations, and one from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

The council would have the power to raise minimum wage up to $22 per hour, and increase it up to 3.5 percent every year afterward. For perspective, California’s minimum wage is $15 and will move to $15.50 at the start of 2023. The bill would impact more than 550,000 workers across more than 30,000 locations.

Major quick-service chains like Chipotle, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Jack in the Box have lobbied against the law. Joe Erlinger, president of McDonald’s USA, referred to the FAST Act as “lopsided, hypocritical, and ill-considered” because of how it would affect some restaurants and not others, and said it would drive business out of the state. 

The Association claimed the FAST Act would increase prices 20-22 percent, slow business growth, and eliminate thousands of jobs. The organization also noted that quick-service restaurants being forced to raise wages would impact independent concepts, which would have to increase their rates to remain competitive. 

“The National Restaurant Association committed to bringing this legislative action to the voters in California because we think voters need to have a say when laws like the FAST Act would fracture the restaurant industry and harm the people who make restaurant businesses great. Californians agree with us and it’s clear they want a chance to stop this law,” Michelle Korsmo, president and CEO of the Association, said in a statement. “The fact this process puts this law on hold ensures that restaurants can operate without disruption in the meantime and diners won’t lose of the brands they love.”

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said the proposed referendum is “nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to silence more than half a million fast-food workers.” 

“This isn’t how companies act when they’re proud of their business model,” Henry said in a statement. “It’s how they act when they’re terrified of their own workers and the power of collective action.”

Sandro Flores, a Los Angeles-based Carl’s Jr. employee and leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union, said “global, billion-dollar corporations are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent us from having a voice on the job.”

Flores specifically targeted McDonald’s, alleging the burger brand is spearheading an industrywide fight to silence his organization. 

“We won AB 257 by speaking out, standing up and going on strike to show billion-dollar fast-food corporations we need a voice on the job to force them to take responsibility for systemic issues like violence, low pay, wage theft and sexual harassment,” Flores said in a statement. “This ballot measure isn’t going to stop us. We are going to lead the way toward winning an industry that works for everyone.” 

Fast Food, Legal, Story