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AB 257: California’s wage law is being rewritten by fast food chains

Businesses and restaurant trade groups said Monday they have submitted enough voter signatures for a ballot measure to overturn a landmark California law that could raise fast food workers’ wages to $22 an hour — signatures that labor advocates allege were obtained fraudulently.

Save Local Restaurants, a fast food industry coalition, had until December 5 to submit approximately 623,000 California voter signatures to place a measure on 2024’s ballot asking voters to repeal the law. The coalition has been spending heavily Monday, the referendum committee announced that it had received over 1,000,000 signatures.

“The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should stand,” the coalition said in a written statement.

It will likely take weeks for California’s secretary of state to review and validate signatures submitted and determine whether the referendum can move forward.

Proponents have until Dec. 5 to submit signatures to the local counties where they were collected. The counties then have eight business days to provide a raw count of signatures to the secretary of state’s office.

If that raw total reaches 100% of required signatures, counties will have 30 business days to do a random sample verification of signatures, said Joe Kocurek, a spokesperson with the secretary of state’s office.

Service Employees International Union California, which co-sponsored the original law and opposes the effort to overturn it, alleges signatures were obtained fraudulently and previously filed complaints with the secretary of state and attorney general’s office urging action.

Last month a Times review of video footage captured by organizers working with SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaign revealed four separate incidents in which petition gatherers for the referendum falsely said signing the petition would support an effort to raise wages for fast-food workers.

The state attorney general’s office declined to answer questions about whether it was looking into allegations outlined in the complaint. “To protect its integrity, we’re unable to comment on a potential or ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson with the California Department of Justice said in an email.

California has regulations governing signature gathering, but they are difficult to enforce.

The union held a video news conference Monday morning where campaign finance transparency advocates called for reforms to California’s ballot initiative process.

Large corporations pay firms to hire signature gatherers paid per signature, and that’s an “incentive to spread lies,” said Veronica Carrizales, vice president of policy and external affairs at political advocacy group California Calls, at the news conference.

Governor signed AB 257 into law, which gave the mandate for a council to establish standards for wages, hours, and other labor conditions for fast food workers. Gavin Newsom on Labor Day.

To proceed with the creation and implementation of the council, it was necessary that the union obtain the signatures from 10,000 fast-food restaurant workers. SEIU California stated Monday that it had obtained these signatures.

Jan. 1 will be the effective date of the law. If the referendum qualifies, the law will be put on hold and not implemented until the question is posed to voters on the 2024 ballot.

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