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Judge temporarily blocks California fast food wages law

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A judge on Friday temporarily prevented the state of California from implementing a landmark new law aimed at raising wages and improving working conditions for fast-food workers.

The order by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang came in response to a lawsuit by restaurant industry groups seeking a referendum on the November 2024 vote to overturn the law.

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The law provides for a 10-member council with the power to set minimum wages and standards for hours and conditions for California fast-food workers.

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State and county election officials are still checking whether the referendum proposal garnered enough signatures to qualify for voting, a decision expected by the end of January. In this case, the enactment of the law would be halted until voters intervene.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Industrial Relations said it plans to begin implementing the law on Sunday. That could include opening the way for appointments to the Fast Food Council. However, wage increases or other changes could not come into effect until October, meaning the law would have no immediate impact on workers’ wages.

The International Franchise Association and National Restaurant Association said state law requires the state to sit still until the referendum status is determined. The industry groups submitted more than 1 million voter signatures in support of the referendum, far exceeding the roughly 620,000 required by state law.

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“California bureaucrats are taking an unprecedented step, at the behest of special interests, to violate their Constitution and the will of more than a million voters who have called for the referendum to halt the Fast Food Council,” said Matt Haller, chief executive Officer and President of the International Franchise Association said in a statement.

The Service Employees International Union, which supported the formation of the council, has blasted the lawsuit and several companies by name, including McDonald’s, Chipotle and Starbucks.

“This cowardly tactic is straight out of the corporate playbook that unfortunately Californians have gotten to know too well,” Tia Orr, executive director of SEIU California, said in a statement.

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“When corporations fail to stop progressive legislation in the legislature, they turn to electoral funding to bypass democracy and the will of the people,” she added.

If the signature drive doesn’t qualify for a referendum and the law moves forward, fast-food wages could rise to as much as $22 an hour by the end of 2023. California’s minimum wage for all workers is set to increase starting at $15.50 an hour Sunday.

Chang, the judge, has scheduled a hearing on the matter for January 13. She also wrote that restaurant groups could not prove they had served the state properly with the lawsuit, and she ordered them to do so.

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