California’s fast food move to raise wages faces a referendum on next year’s ballot

A voter initiative to overturn a California law aimed at raising wages and improving working conditions for more than half a million fast food workers is eligible for next year’s ballot, the authorities on Tuesday.

The referendum raised more than 623,000 valid voter signatures to be placed on Nov. 5, 2024, election ballot, Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber announced.

The first-in-the-nation law, passed last year, established a 10-member council empowered to set minimum wages as well as standards for hours and working conditions for those fast food in California. It will affect about 550,000 workers statewide.

Two industry groups, the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association, are promoting the referendum that will leave the fate to the voters.

Opponents, who raised more than $10 million last year to fund the referendum campaign, argued the law would burden owners of chain restaurant franchises and drive up food costs.

On December 30, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the law while the ballot signatures were counted and verified.

The move would have raised workers’ wages to $22 an hour by the end of this year for chains such as McDonald’s and Starbucks with 100 or more outlets nationwide.

The current minimum wage in California for all workers is $15.50 an hour.

Labor groups support the legislation and the referendum battle will be a bitter and expensive one that will see both sides spend hundreds of millions of dollars to woo voters.

The Service Employees International Union remains confident that the law will survive the election.

“Despite the fast food companies’ efforts to distort the referendum process, we know that California voters saw through their tricks,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henderson said in a statement. “There is no corporation more powerful than half a million workers banding together to demand a seat at the table.”

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