Lorena Gonzalez once again puts union power ahead of workers
Author: Michael Saltsman and Rebekah Paxton
Publication Date: May 2021
Newspaper: Orange County Register
Leave it to Lorena Gonzalez to name a bill the FAST Recovery Act even though it would slow the state’s economic rebound.
Gonzalez, D-Organized Labor, is best known as the author of Assembly Bill 5, which gained national notoriety after it stripped countless freelancers of their incomes. Voters in 2020 delivered a resounding verdict on the law’s applicability to “gig workers,” approving the Proposition 22 ballot measure which preserves these workers’ status as independent contractors.
Not content to just micromanage the careers of freelancers, Gonzalez has now turned her attention to fast food workers. Her FAST Recovery Act — that’s shorthand for Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, or Assembly Bill 257 — would empower an 11-member council of political appointees to dictate wages and working conditions for the entire fast food industry. These unelected officials would have the power to override even the state legislature, with little recourse for affected parties.
If you are pleased with the state bureaucracy’s (mis)management of unemployment insurance benefits, you’ll love what they have in mind for your favorite restaurant. The labor groups behind Gonzalez’s plan have endorsed union-style work rules where layoffs must occur on the basis of seniority, restrictive scheduling rules that reduce the availability of part-time work, and pay mandates approaching $20 an hour or more. The council could micromanage almost every aspect of a business’s operation.
Gonzalez’s justification for the bill is a case study in cognitive dissonance, requiring readers to discount a decade of self-congratulatory press statements about California’s progressive governance. As recently as February, groups in Gonzalez’s orbit praised a “renaissance in the [Labor Department’s] enforcement activity, with strategic reforms that resulted in record setting recoveries and relief for some of the state’s most abused and marginalized workers.” Robert Reich boasted that California has “the nation’s foremost set of laws to protect workers.”
Yet in her legislation, Gonzalez walks it all back, claiming that “existing enforcement and regulatory mechanisms have proved inadequate…”
The evidence offered in support of this claim is scant. Gonzalez cites “numerous complaints filed by fast food workers with local health departments” during the pandemic, but many of those complaints were filed with the assistance of union operatives. Neutral data from state and local health authorities tells a different story: Of the nearly 7,000 Cal/OSHA inspections that took place between March 2020 and April 2021, just 88 were at fast food restaurants, and only half of those were the result of a complaint. In LA County, only 0.4% of county-level citations for noncompliance with COVID protocols went to chain fast food restaurants covered by this bill.
The rest of Gonzalez’s case rests largely on a questionable report co-authored by the Labor Centers at UC-Berkeley and UCLA, whose researchers never met a mandate they didn’t like. The report draws a spurious link between fast food restaurants and sexual harassment complaints, stating inaccurately that more than a third of such claims come from restaurants. (In fact, only about 6% come from restaurants.) Other claims cite back to prior Labor Center analyses, or to polling data supported by the same labor unions that now endorse the FAST Recovery Act.
The real motivation behind the Act was let slip in a press statement by the SEIU, which has invested more than $100 million into its “Fight for $15 and a union” since 2012. The union’s press materials say it has demanded “a voice on the job” for fast food workers and praised Gonzalez for “taking the boldest steps yet to empower fast food workers….”
The president of SEIU California, in a goalpost-moving statement for the ages, said that all of California’s labor laws “won’t amount to anything” without workers having “a voice in their industry.” (Read: SEIU representation.)
It does not speak well of the SEIU’s value proposition that its only path forward to represent fast food workers is for the state government to force the union’s dictates on an entire industry.