Will Gavin Newsom Finally Help California’s Farmworkers?

On labor Day, September 5, California Governor Gavin signed AB257, the FAST Act, into law. The Governor selected the most symbolic date for unions to sign the legislation: AB257 is a monumental win for the 500,000 fast-food workers throughout California. After years of recalcitrance on behalf of the fast-food industry CEOs to address the low wages and unsafe working conditions of their workforce, and years of union organizers, especially from the FIGHT FOR $15 campaign, attempting to organize against these inequities, AB 257 provides solutions for the fast-food workers.

The FAST Act requires the establishment of a ten-member council, comprised of two-state officials, four fast-food workers and four representatives from the fast-food industry. The council will designate an industry-wide minimum wage, hours and working conditions. The law caps minimum wage increases for fast-food workers at chains with more than 100 restaurants at $22 an hour beginning next year, an immediate increase from the $15.50 that is the current rate. Cost of living raises are covered by a 3.5% yearly increase.

Ingrid Vilorio, a fast food worker at Jack in the Box was at the historic Labor Day signing. “It was a battle of Goliath versus David and we just had our voice to ensure that AB257 became a reality.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom was lobbied frantically by the Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant industry after the FAST Act was passed on August 29 in the California Legislature. There are a couple of aspects of the FAST Act that are particularly loathsome to the CEO class. The FAST Act employs the practice of covering enormous numbers of workers, working for various companies, under one contract – increasing the power of the fast-food workers. What just happened with the passage of AB257 and the governor’s signature is certain to trigger more legislation throughout the country covering the fast-food industry. 

On August 29, the day the California legislature passed the FAST Act, Republican State Senator Brian Dahle, the Republican nominee for governor in November, simply stated his party’s objections, calling it “a steppingstone to unionize all these workers.”

The low-wage workforce has been suffering exponentially for decades and was brought to national attention when the pandemic revealed the abhorrent wages and working conditions endured by many essential workers.

“California is committed to ensuring that the men and woman who have helped build our world-class economy are able to share in the state’s prosperity,” the California Governor said in a statement. “Today’s action gives hardworking fast food workers a stronger voice and seat at the table to set fair wages and critical health and safety standards across the industry.”

Now, as Newsom takes national Democratic prominence as he toys with the idea of running for higher office, there is AB2183, also passed by the California Assembly on August 29th, that needs his signature to demonstrate his commitment to the low wage workforce. This is the bill that makes the process for farmworkers to join unions far easier and without the intimidation and the interference of the farm owners. Last year, Newsom vetoed a similar bill.

President Biden supports the bill, and is putting pressure on Newsom to sign it. “Farmworkers worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to keep food on America’s table during the pandemic,” President Biden stated. In the state with the largest population of farmworkers, the least we owe them is an easier path to make a free and fair choice to organize a union.”

“It is time to sign the bill,” declared Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, last Sunday, September 4th. Governor Newsom is receiving the same ferocious lobbying from the Chamber of Commerce against the idea of sharing the state’s prosperity with farmworkers. 

Silicon Valley wealth and the inequity it produces or, assuring that all of California’s workers have a seat at the table by organizing into unions: unionists and activists throughout the country and state are waiting what the Governor chooses.

Nancy Snyder is the Recording Secretary Emeritus of SEIU Local 1021. She has a long history of writing about labor issues and labor history and also writes about political literature.