April 12, 2024

Half a million fast food workers in California will now earn $20 an hour


As of Monday, about half a million fast-food workers in California will earn at least $20 an hour, $4 higher than the state’s general minimum wage.

The new rate applies to restaurant chains with more than 60 locations nationwide and is the result of a years-long struggle by workers for better wages and working conditions, especially in California’s fast-food industry.

The law also creates a fast-food council, a first of its kind in the U.S., with representatives from both the restaurant industry and workers, to raise wages annually for the rest of the decade, at pace with inflation or up to 3.5%. , whichever is higher. This council can also recommend standards for the safety of fast food workers and work with existing government agencies to investigate issues such as wage theft.

“I definitely think it’s a very big problem,” said Jaylene Loubet, who works as a cashier at McDonald’s. “What we are fighting for is not unreasonable. We only ask what is fair.”

But owners of some fast-food franchise locations say in anticipation of these additional costs, they have already raised menu prices and cut back labor hours in recent months. or both. And many affected owners own only one restaurant location.

Michaela Mendelsohn, a franchisee appointed to the new board, said: “There is talk about showing both sides of this. I think it’s all one side. I think that to be successful, we have to be successful, and our employees have to be successful together.”

Happy and expensive meal

Scott Rodrick started its first McDonald’s 30 years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and now has 18 locations.

Rodrick said he has increased prices by about 5% to 7% in the past three months to anticipate the higher wages.

“As a business owner, when you’re dealing with this kind of extraordinary overnight change, you know, a 25% pay increase… (no) stone needs to be left unturned,” Rodrik said. “And so we looked at the price, even though I can’t charge $20 for a Happy Meal. My customers The appetite for recording menu prices is not unlimited.

Instead of cutting back on labor hours, Rodrick said he would expand his delivery operations and make decisions on major capital expenditures, such as delaying a dining room renovation or delaying the purchase of new grills or roof ventilation systems.

“In the world of McDonald’s, people make burgers and people smile at customers in the drivewayThrough, people build Happy Meals. And while we rely on technology much more today than ever before, it has not displaced the importance of people in the workplace. I was just able to rearrange where they work in the restaurant,” Rodrick said.

Mendelsohn, owner of six El Pollo Loco locations, has long been an advocate for employees rights, including helping transgender people find jobs.

But she says suddenly increasing wages in one sector is not ideal: “If you only choose fast food and go up so quickly, you put people in a position of desperation. How do we survive?” she asked. But the two main ways are to increase prices and reduce labor. And we don’t want to do that now.”

Mendelsohn said her menu items have increased in price about 3% to 4% since February in preparation for higher wages. She plans not to replace employees who quit and have self-service kiosks next week. She may also implement artificial intelligence in the drive-thrus next year.

“I wish it was done over a longer period of time and it wasn’t just fast food,” Mendelsohn said. She said the state’s previous $15 minimum wage worked because it was implemented over several years and applied to every business.

Loubet, who worked as a McDonald’s cashier for six years while in college, says she lives with her two parents in the same one-bedroom apartment they have lived in since the 1990s.

Her mother has worked at the same McDonald’s for nine years. Loubet said that during that time, her mother went from making about $15 an hour to about $17 an hour, an increase that didn’t nearly keep pace with inflation.

They hope to leave their apartment for some more space.

“We’re actually looking outside of Los Angeles just because with our salaries it’s just impossible to look for anything lower than $1,000 for a basic studio apartment,” Loubet said. “Even if we stayed in Los Angeles and made $20 an hour, it would still put a strain on our finances just because now we’re just talking about rent. And that doesn’t include bills and food and things like that. With the cost of living in Los Angeles rising and our wages barely rising, people need to realize that $20 is still not enough to feel safe.”

For her, security means having a little cash in case of an emergency, or, in her family’s case, a sudden loss of income when her father was injured and could no longer do his construction work.

But this law is not just about money.

Loubet recalls that a customer once asked for access to the bathroom: “I asked him to give me a minute to open the bathroom while I grab someone’s food. And by the time I turned around, he was already holding a knife at another customer. You don’t expect things like this to happen.”

Loubet hopes the newly formed council, working with existing government agencies, can address security and safety standards at fast food locations, recommend changes and investigate employee complaints.

Mendelsohn, who serves on the council, said the group is concerned about the increase in crime overall but is hesitant to place more demands on individual restaurant owners.

The new council met for the first time in March.

Worker advocates hope this council can not only address fair wages, but also ensure workers get enough hours to support themselves. new protection against unfair, arbitrary dismissal.

In addition, they hope the council can discuss fair working conditions, including wage theft, extreme heat and workplace violence.

“It’s the great American experiment, in a way,” Mendelsohn said. ‘I love this country. It’s so polarized on all these issues and to bring everyone together in one room to talk to each other and hopefully listen and understand – I think it’s a big step forward.”

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