California fast-food workers form new union, first of its kind for industry

Marching through one of the terminals, some 200 low-wage workers take part in a protest named

Hundreds of fast-food workers in California will join a new union Friday, a first of its kind for the industry.

The California Fast Food Workers Union will be affiliated with the powerful Service Employees International Union, which is also the force that was behind the Fight for $15 campaign, aimed at raising minimum wage.

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Union leaders say they want to build on years of national organizing that has led to improved pay and working conditions in the low-wage industry.

“We really hope this can be a model for workers not just in the state of California and not just in fast food, but throughout the country to have a voice to advocate for wages and standards,” said Joseph Bryant, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Unlike a traditional union, the fast-food worker’s union is launching as a so-called minority union representing a small share of the industry’s workers with the goal of expanding its ranks, though the union could face challenges in growing its ranks. Workers who join the union will pay $20 in monthly membership dues in exchange for union resources and support.

The workers are employed at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Jack in the Box, Carl’s Jr. and Subway, among others, according to SEIU. Calls to those companies were not returned early Friday.

The new fast-food workers’ union outlined priorities that include raising the minimum wage by 3.5 percent over the next three years, protecting workers from being fired without a valid reason and establishing rules to guarantee workers are scheduled enough hours to make enough money to sustain themselves. The union will also advocate for workers who experience retaliation for organizing, which labor leaders say is common in the industry.

“We’re forming this union for the generations of fast-food workers that come after us so that they don’t have to deal with the many injustices that happen to us on the job,” Angelica Hernandez, a McDonald’s worker in Monterey Park, Calif., said in Spanish.

After 19 years on the job, Hernandez makes $18.19 an hour as a crew trainer, which she says is not enough to survive in the Los Angeles area without going hungry sometimes.

The new union will face challenges, as unions remain exceedingly rare in the fast-food industry. SEIU’s approach to organizing is unusual in that it aims to organize workers broadly across the sector without the federal certification that comes with winning a union election.

Last September, a new California law created a state fast-food council, to allow labor and business to negotiate over minimum pay and workplace regulations for the first time at chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell, among others. As part of that legislation, SEIU and fast-food companies reached a deal to raise the state’s minimum wage for some 500,000 fast-food workers to $20 an hour by April.

Jeff Hanscom, vice president of state and local government relations for the International Franchise Association, a powerful trade group that opposed the bill, said that the minimum wage increase “will add about $250,000 to the operating cost of each restaurant. Food prices will have to go up, customers will feel it, and restaurant owners will look for other ways to manage the additional cost while also keeping their small businesses afloat."

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