California Raises Fast Food Worker Wages to $20 an Hour

The law is part of a larger compromise between labor unions and the industry.

September 29, 2023

Under a new bill signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom, fast food workers will earn a minimum of $20 an hour as well as have a greater say in workplace standards, reports the Associated Press.

Currently, California fast food workers earn an average of $16.60 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The  minimum wage in California is $15.50 an hour, one of the highest in the states. Reuters notes that the new minimum equates to an annual wage of $41,600.

The bill will take effect on April 1, and will give California’s fast food workers the highest guaranteed base salary in the industry.

When Newsom signed the law, he was surrounded by cheering workers and labor leaders at a Los Angeles event. While speaking, he dismissed the idea that fast food jobs are only for teenagers, stating, “That’s a romanticized version of a world that doesn’t exist. We have the opportunity to reward that contribution, reward that sacrifice and stabilize an industry.”

According to Newsom, there are more than 550,000 fast food workers at 30,000 locations statewide, and the majority are primary providers for their families.

The legislation is part of a compromise. In exchange for higher pay, labor unions dropped their attempt to make fast food corporations “liable for the misdeeds of their independent franchise operators in California.” The industry, for its part, pulled a ballot referendum asking voters to repeal a law aimed at improving wages and working conditions.

Newsom said that the negotiations took over 100 hours in the final weeks of the state legislative session.

The new minimum wage is just the bill’s starting point. The law will also create a Fast Food Council with the power to raise that wage each year through 2029 by either 3.5% or by the change in averages for the U.S. Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, whichever is lower.

Last week, Newsom vetoed a law that was aimed at protecting truck driver jobs from the rise of self-driving technology.