Fast food workers from across California rallied at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 16, 2022, Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – Not so fast: On Tuesday, one day after Newsom signed into law a controversial bill to create a state-run council to regulate working conditions for the fast food industry while setting workers’ minimum wage as high as $22 per hour next year, opponents filed a proposed referendum to overturn the law with Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office. Behind the measure is a coalition called Protect Neighborhood Restaurants, co-chaired by the International Franchise Association and the National Restaurant Association. Business groups, the restaurant industry and franchisors fiercely opposed the bill, which barely squeaked out of the state Legislature amid trepidation from moderate Democrats. “It is only right for California’s voters to have a voice before harboring the burden of a bill that has widely been heralded as a massive step in the wrong direction,” Protect Neighborhood Restaurants said in a statement.

  • A spokesperson for Bonta’s office told my colleague Jeanne Kuang that it plans to issue a circulating title and summary for the proposed referendum by Sept. 16. Proponents have until Dec. 4 to submit more than 623,000 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2024 ballot. If they do, the law will be put on hold until voters have a chance to weigh in.

The Service Employees International Union, which sponsored the bill, slammed the proposed referendum in a Wednesday press conference: “McDonalds loves to sell their burgers and fries to Black and Latino communities … but when it comes to their Black and Latino workers the company won’t even sit at the same table as them,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU International.

  • Assemblymember Chris Holden, the Pasadena Democrat who authored the bill, told Jeanne in a statement: “It is unfortunate that we are witnessing industry rush to referendum rhetoric. Rhetoric that costs millions and doesn’t deliver workplace solutions. It is saddening that the industry is looking for a way out of providing a seat at the table amongst all stakeholders. It is high time that we build up and engage the workers who make the multi-billion fast food industry possible. Giving equal representation of employees and employers is the recipe for sustainable, long-term growth in an inclusive manner.”

The proposed measure is the latest example of industry turning to the ballot box to counteract laws coming out of Sacramento: On Nov. 8, California voters will decide whether to uphold a 2020 state ban on certain flavored tobacco products after the tobacco industry qualified a referendum — allowing them to continue selling those items, and reaping hundreds of millions of dollars, for the two years the law was put on hold. And in 2020, voters approved a ballot measure to exempt Uber and Lyft from a controversial state labor law requiring them to classify more of their workers as employees and greenlighted a referendum funded by the bail industry to overturn a state law ending cash bail.