Fast food workers get raises from new California law

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 29, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Fast food workers get raises from new California law

With tears in her eyes, Anneisha Williams, a Jack in the Box employee from Inglewood, lifted the piece of paper that was Assembly Bill 1228 with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s fresh signature. The measure will raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 an hour next April and create a council to set labor standards.

Before Newsom signed the bill Thursday, in front of a crowd at SEIU offices in downtown Los Angeles that included labor leaders, union members and Assemblymember Chris Holden of Pasadena (the bill’s author), Williams recounted the monumental effort it took to push the measure through (“Boy, were these some tough mountains’”), and dedicated the moment to those who came before her.

  • Williams: “This is for my ancestors. This is for all the farm workers, all the cotton pickers, this is for them. We ride on their shoulders because they fought some rocky roads as well…. This is our blood, this is our sweat and this is our tears.”

The law is contingent on the restaurant industry formally withdrawing its November 2024 referendum to overturn a fast food council law passed last year. The governor acknowledged this political maneuvering during the signing, as well as the costly campaigning both industry and labor groups likely saved themselves. 

  • Newsom: “This wasn’t easy. There were 100-plus hours in the last few months negotiating this referendum off the ballot. That was a tectonic plate that had to be moved.”

But as Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team points out, while the $20 minimum wage is higher than the $16 statewide minimum that starts Jan. 1, it’s still not a living wage for many families. Read more from workers in her story.

Meanwhile, leaders in the restaurant industry reacted positively, albeit cautiously. Sean Kennedy, the National Restaurant Association’s executive vice president of public affairs, said in a statement that “there are significant challenges created by this law that restaurants will have to navigate,” but that they will be able to do so under “stable and predictable regulation.”

Despite this victory, labor groups are still hoping Newsom signs other significant labor bills. The most contentious: SB 799, which would allow workers who have been on strike for at least two weeks to receive unemployment benefits. 

Though he remained coy about whether he would sign that bill, Newsom told Alejandra and other reporters he was studying it. He also mentioned that the bill wouldn’t cover workers currently on strike since it wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, and that California still owes the federal government $18.5 billion in unemployment benefits.

CalMatters is tracking Newsom’s calls on that and other key bills: Bookmark this page for updates.


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1 Relief for rising gas prices

Gasoline prices reach far more than $6 a gallon at a station in Carlsbad on Sept. 18, 2023. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

With gas prices soaring again, Republicans in the Legislature demanded that Gov. Newsom suspend the 58-cent state gas tax, or at least let service stations sell the lower-cost winter fuel blend early.    

Newsom did the latter, somewhat quietly Wednesday night. He sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board ordering it to move as quickly as possible to the winter fuel, which otherwise would start on Oct. 31. Thursday, the board agreed.

The governor also directed the California Energy Commission to take the next steps in an investigation of the recent price spike that could eventually lead to a penalty on oil company profits. He wants a report by Jan. 1 on how to change the spot petroleum market to “protect Californians.” The state’s new watchdog said last week that an “unusual” transaction on the spot market on Sept. 15 contributed to the recent price spike. 

  • Newsom, in a statement: “Oil companies are ripping you off, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it. Big Oil can’t hide anymore.”

The governor is using a law that came out of a special session he called last October during another price spike.  

But Republicans sent a letter to Newsom on Thursday urging him to call another special session, this time on the gas tax.  

  • Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher, in a statement: “Enough with the finger pointing, sham investigations and unfounded allegations of price gouging. Everyone knows that prices are high because of California’s taxes and regulations.”

As of Thursday, the average gas price across California was $6.03 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s up 14 cents from Wednesday, 25 cents from a week ago and $2.19 higher than the national average. And some analysts are predicting that prices could jump even higher in California and other West Coast states.

2 State tells Huntington Beach no on voter ID

Two voters cast their ballots at a vote center, in Huntington Beach Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
Two voters cast their ballots at a vote center, in Huntington Beach Sept. 14, 2021. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

Huntington Beach officials are considering a city charter change to require voters to show identification at the polls. 

California’s top lawyer and voting official have a simple reply: Don’t.

Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber sent a joint letter Thursday warning the Orange County city that a voter ID requirement would violate state law and would be preempted. Under state law, Californians have to provide valid identification to register to vote, but only need to provide their name and address at the polls.   

  • Weber, in a statement: “We cannot turn back the clock on voting rights. Voter ID requirements at the polls have historically been used to turn eligible voters away from exercising the franchise, especially low-income voters and voters of color.”

Bonta said if Huntington Beach officials continue pursuing the plan, the state will “take appropriate action to ensure that voters’ rights are protected.”

The Huntington Beach City Council is to vote next week whether to put the charter amendment on the March ballot. Besides the voter ID change, the proposal would also require city officials to monitor ballot drop boxes. Bonta and Weber say that video monitoring is already authorized for  county election officials. The proposals are being pushed by the Republican majority on the council, reports Voice of OC.    

Election officials have been pushing back against local moves based on unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. A bill on Newsom’s desk — in response to the GOP-controlled Shasta County Board of Supervisors getting rid of Dominion voting machines and ordering hand counts of ballots — would ban hand counts in most elections.

3 Will this plan preserve Bay-Delta?

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on June 22, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on June 22, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

The San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are crucial to California’s water future, especially in the era of drought.   

But it’s really, really complicated to balance the competing interests of water suppliers, fishers, environmentalists and residents. 

On Thursday, California’s water regulators unveiled the latest attempt — a nearly 6,000-page draft report that outlines options for managing the Bay-Delta.

As CalMatters’ Rachel Becker explains, the report is part of a broader, nearly 30-year long process to update the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. Several of the strategies call for minimum amounts of water to remain in rivers and streams, which could lead to suppliers cutting back on how much water they provide to residents and farms. 

The report also evaluates the controversial $2.6 billion deal that Gov. Newsom struck with suppliers last March. Though it isn’t finalized, the deal involves “voluntary agreements” from suppliers to surrender some water in exchange for significant contributions to habitat restoration in the watershed.

Though both suppliers and environmentalists are glad that the draft report has finally been completed, the opposing camps had differing reactions. Water suppliers, providers and public water agencies strongly support these voluntary agreements. But environmentalists argue the agreements don’t provide enough water to protect fish and wildlife, and tribes have decried the review process as discminatory

The State Water Resources Control Board likely won’t consider adopting these proposals for at least another year, and even then it could take more years to implement. For more details on the draft report, read Rachel’s story.


CalMatters Commentary

Budget cuts hitting the U.S. Census Bureau could lead to undercounts of California’s population and cost the state money, write Ed Kissam, co-trustee of the Werner-Kohnstamm Family Fund, and Manuel Pastor, director of the USC Equity Research Institute.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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CA ranks in top third among states for student debt, despite low public tuition // EdSource

Energy firm Sempra is top campaign funder of CA legislators in first half of 2023 // Sacramento Bee

President Biden announces executive action on AI, on SF tour // San Francisco Chronicle

Biden takes a 2024 fundraising swing through Bay Area // Los Angeles Times

CA Wingstop owner fined $3.2M in wage theft case // The Sacramento Bee

Writers reached a deal on AI, but it could be tougher for actors // Los Angeles Times

SF Mayor Breed takes a shift to the right to seek reelection // Politico

LA congressional candidate charged with misusing campaign funds // Los Angeles Times 

Sacramento County hasn’t spent $25M to help Parkway homeless // The Sacramento Bee

LA City Council approves new ethics commissioner // Los Angeles Times

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