A solution to health, safety and labor issues in fast food

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In summary

The FAST Recovery Act would create a structure to improve compliance with the law in the fast food industry.

By Catherine L. Fisk, special for CalMatters

Catherine L. Fisk is a professor of labor and employment law at UC Berkeley School of Law.

As 2022 and a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic approach, California lawmakers face a difficult predicament: how to support small business owners who have faced the overwhelming challenges of the pandemic while continuing to lead the country with innovative policies that protect and empower essential workers.

One bill, Assembly Bill 257 — the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, or FAST Recovery Act — gives state lawmakers the ability to address the needs of these two important constituencies.

In California, there are more than 557,000 fast food workers in more than 30,000 locations. The industry stands out not only for its size, but also for its well-documented labor violations.

The FAST Recovery Act, introduced by former Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, creates a structure to improve compliance with the law in an industry structured to avoid corporate liability. It would create a fast-food industry council made up of representatives from franchisor brands, franchise operators, workers, and public and occupational health agencies.

The council will be empowered to develop labor, safety and health standards for the fast food industry based on the expertise of public bodies, industry workers, franchisees and franchisors.

This addresses an inherent power imbalance in which franchisees and frontline workers are at the mercy of global fast food companies.

In fast food, big brands like McDonald’s franchise their operations by contracting with small businesses to operate restaurants. These brand companies control products, prices, and most restaurant operations.

Franchisees who operate the restaurants often have no way to make a profit while adhering to company guidelines for hours of operation and customer service other than by cutting labor costs. . In fact, in recent years, black franchisees have filed racial discrimination lawsuits against McDonald’s, alleging the burger giant has blocked them from getting to the best and most profitable places.

With tight profit margins and little ability to make improvements independently, many operators don’t pay the legal minimum wage or overtime, deny sick leave and ignore harassment, safety risks and transmission. diseases.

The FAST Recovery Act ensures shared responsibility between franchisors and franchisees for legal compliance by making franchisors jointly liable for franchisees’ violations of industry standards and existing employment, health and safety laws.

Under AB 257, a franchisee could sue a franchisor if company policies prevent compliance with the board’s minimum standards. Studies have shown that it is the franchising relationship – and not the nature of the work in the restaurant industry in general or in the fast food industry in particular – that explains the non-respect of labor standards.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the tragic consequences of fast food restaurants‘ high violation, low liability model. Medical researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found California line cooks faced a 60% increase in pandemic-associated mortality — the highest of any occupation — and workers Latino and Latino food services saw a 59% increase in mortality.

Although the Fast Food Sector Council is an innovative solution to the problems of the fast food industry, it is based on well-established principles of law. It is similar to existing named bodies, such as the California Energy Commission and the California Coastal Commission, which are designed to tackle difficult issues and ensure stakeholder input.

AB 257 adopts this well-established participatory regulatory model that has been used effectively in California and other states for decades and would enhance opportunities for public participation by involving key stakeholders in the regulatory process.

But, passing the FAST Recovery Act isn’t just about good policy, it’s good policy for lawmakers – a recent poll by Data for Progress found that 74% of voters support AB 257, with a majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. The same poll found that a majority of voters think fast food workers, who in California are 80% people of color, should have more power to negotiate with their employer. Passage of the FAST Recovery Act in January would be a victory for workers, small business owners and lawmakers.

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Catherine L. Fisk also wrote that agricultural workers deserve the right to vote by correspondence in union elections.

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