California’s fast food sectoral bargaining law could revolutionize the labor movement
Fast food workers and their supporters march past the state Capitol calling for passage of the FAST Recovery Act, a bill to provide increased power to fast-food workers, in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 16, 2022. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed the legislation into law. | Rich Pedroncelli / AP

It was a historic Labor Day for California’s 550,000 fast food workers. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the FAST Recovery Act, transforming labor rights for workers in the industry after a long organizing effort from workers across the state. Beyond California or fast food, this victory could shape a new era of the labor movement and revolutionize union organizing in the gig economy.

The Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (also called AB 257) establishes sectoral bargaining for fast food workers in the state. The law creates a Fast Food Sector Council that will bargain on behalf of workers across the industry to establish standards on wages, hours, and other working conditions.

This council will be composed of two fast food workers, two franchisors, two labor advocates, one representative from the California Department of Industrial Relations, and one representative from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

The council will have the power to establish labor standards for the state’s fast food chains, defined as 100 or more restaurants using a common national brand. The council also has the ability to establish a $22 minimum wage (compared to California’s $15 state-wide minimum wage) for all fast food employees in 2023. This wage will continue to be updated with the rise in costs of living.

As part of the campaign to pass the FAST Recovery Act, SEIU published a report earlier this year. Skimmed & Scammed: Wage Theft From California’s Fast Food Workers exposes the working conditions and violations in the industry. Of the 400 workers that participated in this study, 85% said they were victims of wage theft. Elsewhere in the report, the authors discuss how the precarity of the fast food industry has hampered workers’ ability to combat abuse from their bosses.

What about gig workers?

Alongside fast food workers, the growing number of app-based gig workers are among the most insecure laborers in the economy. Because they are considered independent contractors in most states, gig workers are not guaranteed the rights other workers have, including sick pay, a minimum wage, and the right to bargain collectively.

This precarity has caused concern within the labor movement, as gig work has become more prevalent in the U.S. labor market. The passage of the FAST Recovery Act, with its sectoral bargaining, offers app-based worker organizers hope.

Last May, politicians in the New York State legislature began exploring the possibility of a similar arrangement to a sectoral bargaining agreement for app-based workers. The legislation would have designated a union to represent app workers throughout the state, but it came with major limitations.

Sectoral bargaining could have huge consequences for gig and contract workers. Workers would be able to participate in collective action with workers at other companies within the same economic sector, regardless of which apps they work for, how many hours a week they work, or where in the state they work.

App-based gig workers have been plagued with logistical questions for years when it comes to organizing union elections: How many hours would one have to work to be allowed to vote? How would the government define bargaining units?

The legislation being proposed in New York earlier this year was later dropped after its negative aspects emerged. The workers would not be allowed to participate in demonstrations, work stoppages, or “disparage, defame, sully or compromise the goodwill, name, brand, or reputation of the network company.”

From the report, ‘Skimmed and Scammed.’

The draft bill also avoided the critical contractor question, leaving for another day the debate as to whether app-based workers should be considered employees. Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group of app-based workers, coordinated large demonstrations to protest the legislation, and Albany politicians backed away from it.

Rideshare Drivers United (RDU) has been grappling with these same issues for years. RDU has been on the frontlines of app-based gig worker organizing in California. In 2020, the organization became the face of opposition to Prop 22, a Big Business-sponsored 2020 ballot initiative that solidified app-based workers’ status as independent contractors, not workers. Although Prop 22 has since been ruled unconstitutional by a California court, RDU is not done fighting for app-based workers’ rights.

Nicole Moore, a part-time app-based driver and President of RDU, tells People’s World that the FAST Recovery Act could offer fast food workers “a real seat at the table to negotiate concrete 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 draft bill in New York last May. She says that app-based workers should explore the idea of sectoral bargaining, but that it should never cost workers their right to a fair minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, overtime pay, Social Security, or engage in strikes.

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 sectoral bargaining agreement that protects workers’ rights may be key to overcoming union organizing hurdles in the industry.

With the right deal, sectoral bargaining could revolutionize the labor movement.


Jackson Todd
Jackson Todd

Jackson Todd is an activist who studies gig worker organizing strategies. Jackson Todd es un activista que estudia estrategias de organización de trabajadores temporales.