LOS ANGELES — The California governor is sending mixed messages to labor groups, delivering a major win for fast food workers while simultaneously dealing a blow to truck drivers.
On Thursday, Sept. 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom stood alongside labor advocates in Los Angeles to sign Assembly Bill 1228, ensuring fast food workers at larger chain restaurants will earn at least $20 per hour starting April 1, 2024. After that, the newly formed Fast Food Council will adjust the hourly minimum wage every year starting Jan. 1, 2025, with a cap of 3.5% or the inflation rate, whichever is lower.
“We saw the abuse, we saw the inequities in terms of the wages and the treatment,” Newsom said, “and we realized we had a responsibility to do more and step up.”
Newsom said this decision, born out of negotiations between the state, fast food workers and the industry group Save Our Local Restaurants, averted a potentially costly referendum that could have reversed significant progress made by the Service Employees International Union and State Assembly on behalf of fast food workers.
An hourly wage of $20 per hour translates to an annual salary of just over $40,000 per year. A household needs to make close to $88,000 per year in order to afford a two-bedroom rental home in California at market rate, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
While this development benefits fast food workers, Newsom’s veto of another piece of legislation, AB 316, on Friday, Sept. 22, has thrown another group of workers under the proverbial self-driving truck. The bill, which called for a human to be present in autonomous large trucks, was deemed unnecessary by the governor.
In a letter accompanying his decision to veto the bill, Newsom explained that the state gave the Department of Motor Vehicles the power to regulate self-driving cars and trucks to ensure they are operating safely on public roads. The department is expected to release draft regulations in the coming months. He also directed the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to lead a process next year to mitigate the impact of deploying autonomous big rigs on workers.
“Considering the longstanding commitment of my Administration to addressing the present and future challenges for work and workers in California, and the existing regulatory framework that presently and sufficiently governs this particular technology, this bill is not needed at this time,” Newsom wrote.
Newsom’s decision has sparked strong criticism.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-District 4), issued a statement on Saturday, Sept. 23, expressing her deep disappointment in the decision to veto the bill, which had support from both law enforcement officials and elected officials at the local, state and federal level.
“I accept the Governor’s offer to continue to work on these critical issues together, which is what AB 316 actually proposed,” Aguiar-Curry wrote. “I respectfully disagree with his decision, but hope that we will have a truly meaningful process to protect the public and working people going forward.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 27, prominent labor leader Lindsay Dougherty took to Twitter to share a video of her candid address to the United Auto Workers, who recently launched a strike at several auto plants to fight for better pay and more time off. Dougherty said that Newsom’s prioritization of moneyed Big Tech interests over workers and community safety necessitates a collective pushback that can only happen through workers taking back power.
“And the only way you do it,” Dougherty said, “is you shut it down.”
Photo caption: Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation establishing a $20 minimum wage for fast food workers at a press event in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 28. (Courtesy of Governor’s Office)