AB 257: Fast food pushes to halt California wage law

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.

The fast food industry coalition, called Save Local Restaurants, had until Dec. 5 to submit some 623,000 California voter signatures in order to put a measure on the 2024 ballot to ask voters to overturn the law, known as AB 257 or the FAST Recovery Act. The coalition, which has been spending heavily on the referendum, said Monday it had submitted over 1 million 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.

The Dec 5 deadline is the last day for proponents to turn in signatures to 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 rules governing the signature gathering process but 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.

AB 257, which created a mandate for a first-of-its-kind council to set standards for fast food workers wages, hours and other labor conditions, was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Labor Day.

It required that the union secure signatures of 10,000 fast-food restaurant employees to move forward with creation of the council once the law goes into effect. SEIU California said Monday it has obtained those signatures.

The law is set to take effect Jan. 1. However if the referendum qualifies the law will be put on hold until the question is put to voters on the 2024 ballot.

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