SEIU California President David Huerta discusses AB 257 with fast food leader Maria Hernandez in Sacramento.

Orange County runs on its workers, especially those in industries like food service, property services, and healthcare. Their work makes all other work possible and lays the foundation for our local economy and our communities. But right now, Orange County’s nearly 48,000 fast food workers who were once deemed essential are suffering and being treated as disposable. 

Six years ago, led by the bravery and tenacity of our state’s fast-food workers, California made history by becoming the first state in the nation to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The fight isn’t over. Orange County’s fast-food workers are still struggling with the rapidly rising cost of living and recovery from the pandemic.

On top of that, for many of these workers, exposure to health risks, violence on the job, wage theft, discrimination, harassment and retaliation are all part of a day’s work. Don’t forget: our neighbors working in fast-food in Orange County risked their lives to serve burgers and fries every day at the height of the pandemic, while many of the rest of us were able to work safely from home. 

Still today, many of these workers are suffering from the stress of having to choose between their health and a paycheck, with employers who threaten their jobs if they don’t come in to work, even while sick. In a recent report, 85 percent of fast-food workers surveyed reported experiencing some form of wage theft; nearly one-third of these were paid sick leave violations.

These are systemic problems that have plagued the fast-food industry for decades. Fortunately, we have a chance to empower workers to begin solving them: AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act, which is up for a vote in the Senate next month. 

AB 257 would create a Fast Food Sector Council bringing workers, franchise owners, corporate representatives and state officials together to set minimum standards to protect workers. It would address long standing issues such as wage theft, harassment, and violence by giving workers and franchisees a seat at the table in setting these standards, and it would hold large fast-food corporations accountable for compliance. 

This bill would directly affect Orange County at every level, from the workers who keep our community running to some of the largest fast-food corporations in the country headquartered in Orange County, including Taco Bell and Chipotle. If passed, AB 257 will ensure local franchisees and corporations share responsibility for maintaining safe and healthy workplaces, creating incentives to build a more sustainable industry.

At a time when our state is still facing huge gaps in racial equality and economic opportunity, our elected leaders have a huge opportunity with this bill. Supporting AB 257 means ensuring fast-food jobs are good jobs that lift up Orange County workers and their families and provide a pathway out of poverty. Amid an ongoing shortage of workers, it’s a way for business owners to attract and retain talented people. 

That’s why on Wednesday, as the state senate prepares to consider the bill, local fast-food workers will caravan around Orange County to take their demand for AB 257 directly to the offices of their senators, whose votes could change the lives of thousands of their constituents. They’ll be visiting Senator Newman’s office in Fullerton and Senator Min’s office in Irvine, calling on them to join us in our effort to ensure fast food workers have access to decent workplaces that respect their humanity. 

The caravan won’t stop there. Workers will also travel to the headquarters of the many fast-food companies that call Orange County home. Outside their headquarters, workers will demand they back down from their fight against AB 257 and instead actually listen to the cooks and cashiers who make their profit possible.

Fast-food workers in Orange County and around the state can’t afford to wait any longer for a seat at the table to help improve their industry. Our state senators, including Senator Min and Senator Newman, have an opportunity to make a real impact on the lives of half a million Californians by joining their fight for the right to organize across the fast-food industry and win a real voice on the job. 

SEIU California State Council President David Huerta outside the state Capitol calling on California’s leaders to stand up for workers by passing AB 257.

David Huerta serves as president of SEIU California, which represents 700,000 nurses, health care workers, janitors, social workers, security officers, in-home caregivers, school and university employees, court workers, and city, county and state employees. Huerta also serves as president of United Service Workers West.

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