California fast food workers won’t stop with one big win
Burger King employee Yolanda Santiago cheers “¡Si Se Pudo!” or “Yes, We Could!,” with fellow workers before Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation supporting the rights of fast food workers and boosting wages to $20 an hour during a press conference at SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

PHILADELPHIA —California’s thousands of fast food workers won’t stop with one big win—a $20 statewide minimum wage with future increases to match inflation—two speakers told the Service Employees. Now they want even more state standards to apply to their bosses.

Speaking from the podium after the SEIU convention delegates and their allies paraded through downtown Philadelphia to Independence Hall on May 19, the two explained how they and the union lobbied the California legislature to erect a state board to regulate the industry.

And the board, which will have fast food workers on it, will also be able to set working conditions in the state’s thousands of eateries, with the power of the state—whose officials will be board members, too, along with managers—to enforce them.

The win for the workers, achieved through legislation late last year, shows the power of a union, and especially one with large numbers of people, to swing lawmakers its way, for their benefit. It also shows the advantage every two years of turning out workers in large numbers at the polls to ensure pro-worker lawmakers, not pro-corporate ones, win.

“We are making history. Most of us are women of color and immigrants, and two-thirds of us are Latinas,” one of the workers told the crowd. “Together we faced some of the largest corporations in the world and we won.”

“Our companies did everything they could to silence us. They threatened our immigration status and our jobs. But we never gave up and we never gave in.”

Still, there are fights to follow in the Golden State, even with a pro-worker legislature. Teresa Mercado, a driver for Uber and Lyft, described how the drivers and other gig economy workers won worker rights protections—including the right to organize–through a new law, AB5.

Julie Su, then the state Labor Commissioner and now the Biden administration’s acting Labor Secretary, wants to extend that model nationally. The corporate class and, in Congress, their lackeys among the House’s ruling Republicans, are lobbying against a national AB5, and to get rid of Su, too.

But first, Mercado said, they have to overcome a referendum defeat in California. The two ride-share companies plus DoorDash spent more than $200 million on a referendum two years ago to successfully convince voters to exempt them, and only then, from the new law’s mandates. The three, using carefully recruited stooges, convinced voters to let the drivers remain supposedly independent contractors, strictly because they could choose their own passengers and set their own hours.

“Lyft and Uber can choose us, or not choose us, whenever they want” through apps, Mercado explained. “They can throw me to the side” because of Mercado’s union activism, and have.

SEIU, which backs the drivers and tries to organize them, plans to take the companies to state

Supreme Court in a class-action suit on their behalf, to overturn the referendum. Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are trying the same repeal by referendum gimmick in Massachusetts, but run into a legal buzz saw there for their attempt, from the state Attorney General.

That doesn’t surprise Mercado. “We’re getting together” with SEIU “and we’re getting stronger—and they’re getting afraid.”


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.