Less than two months after California Governor Gavin Newsom approved a landmark law to increase the minimum wage at fast food restaurants and give workers a role in setting industry standards, labor union SEIU charged that canvassers collecting signatures for a ballot measure to overturn the pro-worker law have been deliberately lying to voters.
AB 257 — also known as the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act — creates a state-wide council of workers, franchisees, officials, and corporate representatives to determine state-wide standards for fast food workers, including a minimum wage increase up to $22 an hour by 2023. Newsom signed the bill into law in early September, despite relentless opposition from fast food corporations.
But the bill’s opponents quickly jumped to a new tactic to thwart the progressive policy: a ballot initiative that would leave the fate of the law to voters in 2024. The effort is backed by a corporate front group known as “Save Local Restaurants” – a coalition that has received millions of dollars in donations from Starbucks, Chipotle, McDonald’s, and more. (The coalition is co-chaired by the National Restaurant Association, the International Franchise Association, and the nation’s largest corporate lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce). If the ballot measure opposing AB 257 can gather enough signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot, enactment of the law will be suspended until voters have a chance to weigh in. Lyft and Uber used a similar tactic in 2020, pouring millions of dollars into an effort to exempt gig drivers from a California law designating gig workers as employees.
The effort to kill the groundbreaking labor rights law is already in full swing. According to complaints filed Thursday by SEIU with the California Attorney General and Secretary of State, paid canvassers at multiple locations across California have told voters that signing the petition to put AB 257 on the ballot would raise the minimum wage — obscuring the fact that the bill in question has already been signed into law. SEIU included video footage of multiple canvassers misrepresenting the ballot initiative to voters at different California locations.
“Petition circulators have engaged in a concentrated effort to collect petitions to qualify a referendum of AB 257 by willfully misleading voters to believe that the petition they are signing raises minimum wage for fast-food workers,” reads the complaint, which was filed this week. “The referendum would do the opposite – repeal a law that would allow the Fast Food Council to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers.”
SEIU is asking California’s Attorney General and Secretary of State to consider voiding the referendum entirely. As it stands, opponents of AB 257 need to collect 623,000 signatures by December 4 to get on the 2024 ballot.