It was a historic Labor Day for California’s 550,000 fast food workers. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the FAST Recovery Act, transforming the labor rights of industrial workers after a long effort to organize workers across the state. Beyond California or fast food, this victory could shape a new era in the labor movement and revolutionize labor organizing in the gig economy.
The Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (also known as AB 257) establishes industry bargaining for fast food workers in the state. The law creates a council for the fast-food sector that will negotiate on behalf of workers in the industry to set standards on wages, hours and other working conditions.
This council will consist of two fast food workers, two franchisors, two labor advocates, a representative from the California Department of Industrial Relations and a representative from the Governor’s Office of Economic and Business Development.
The council will have the power to set labor standards for state fast food chains, defined as 100 or more restaurants using a common national brand. The council also has the option of establishing a minimum wage of $22 (compared to California’s statewide minimum wage of $15) for all fast food workers in 2023. This wage will continue to to be updated with the increase in the cost of living.
As part of the campaign to pass the FAST Recovery Act, the SEIU released a report earlier this year. Skimmed and Scammed: Wage Stealing from California Fast Food Workers exposes working conditions and violations in the industry. Of the 400 workers who participated in this study, 85% said they had been victims of wage theft. Elsewhere in the report, the authors explain how the precariousness of the fast food industry has hampered the ability of workers to fight back against abuse by their bosses.
What about gig workers?
Alongside fast-food workers, the growing number of app-based gig workers are among the most precarious workers in the economy. Because they are considered independent contractors in most states, gig workers are not guaranteed the rights that other workers enjoy, including sick pay, minimum wage, and the right to bargain collectively.
This precariousness has raised concerns within the labor movement as gig work has become more prevalent in the US labor market. The passage of the FAST Recovery Act, with its sectoral negotiations, offers hope to app-based worker organizers.
Last May, politicians in the New York State Legislature began exploring the possibility of an arrangement similar to an industry-wide bargaining agreement for app-based workers. The legislation would have named a union to represent app workers statewide, but it had major limitations.
Sectoral bargaining could have huge implications for gig and contract workers. Workers could participate in collective action with workers in other companies in the same economic sector, regardless of the applications they work for, the number of hours per week they work or where they work in the workplace. ‘State.
App-based gig workers have struggled with logistical questions for years when it comes to organizing union elections: How many hours would you have to work to be allowed to vote? How would the government define bargaining units?
Legislation proposed in New York earlier this year was later scrapped after its negative aspects emerged. Workers would not be allowed to participate in protests, work stoppages or “disparage, defame, smear or compromise the goodwill, name, brand or reputation of the network company“.
The bill also sidestepped the crucial contractor issue, leaving the debate over whether app-based workers should be considered employees for another day. Los Deliveristas Unidos, an app-based labor group, coordinated large demonstrations to protest the legislation, and Albany politicians backed down.
Rideshare Drivers United (RDU) has struggled with these same issues for years. RDU has been at the forefront of organizing app-based gig workers in California. In 2020, the organization became the face of opposition to Prop 22, a 2020 ballot initiative sponsored by big business that solidified the status of app-based workers as independent contractors, not as as workers. Although Prop 22 has since been ruled unconstitutional by a California court, RDU is not done fighting for the rights of app-based workers.
Nicole Moore, part-time app-based driver and president of RDU, says people’s world that the FAST Recovery Act could offer fast-food workers “a real place at the table to negotiate real improvements for themselves and their families.”
But when considering the possibility of sectoral bargaining for app-based workers, Moore pointed to the pitfalls of legislative initiatives like Prop 22 and the bill in New York last May. She says app-based workers should explore the idea of sectoral bargaining, but it should never cost them their right to a fair minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation. , overtime pay, social security or strike action.
The passage of the FAST Recovery Act provides an example of sectoral bargaining for the rest of the country to follow. For app-based gig workers, a fair industry bargaining agreement that protects workers’ rights can be key to overcoming barriers to union organizing in the industry.
With the right deal, sectoral bargaining could revolutionize the labor movement.