Union members are trying a new tactic to protect California’s new wage law

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A group representing the pension funds of several major unions is urging six state restaurant power plants to participate in California’s new fast-food wage-setting process rather than trying to kill it.

SOC Investment Group wants franchisors to seek seats on the new Wage Setting Council formed under California’s new Fast Act unless a coalition of fast-food chains succeeds in overturning the law through a ballot initiative in 2024.

The law would allow the council to raise the state minimum wage for units of large fast-food chains to $22 an hour next year, a roughly 50% increase over the current minimum wage. But if the coalition gathers enough signatures by Dec. 4 to get a proposal to put the law on the 2024 state election, enforcement would be delayed until the vote.

Major restaurant chains have donated millions of dollars to the signature drive.

Rather than go down that route, SOC said on Friday, big chains should compete for the four seats on the 10-member council reserved for employers. Two of those four positions go to fast food franchisees and the other two to quick service franchisors.

Four of the ten seats are reserved for fast-food workers and their advocates. Two are given to workers representing the labor pool and two are reserved for union representatives, though Starbucks is the only restaurant chain in the country that is even partially organized.

The last two seats are occupied by state officials.

The council will also have the power to set basic working conditions for fast-food workers.

The setup is unprecedented in the United States. Tuesday’s election and the democratic “trifectas” it created in several state governments — one party controls the governorship and both houses of the legislature — are expected to prompt the introduction of Fast Act-like bills in other states.

Starbucks is one of six public restaurant companies that SOC says it has asked to compete for employer seats. The others are McDonald’s; Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International; Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut franchisor Yum Brands; Dominoes; and Wendy’s.

In letters to the Six, SOC argued that the council will be good for both employers and their workers, as stakeholder involvement will ensure the rules it sets are real and stabilizing factors.

“Fast food companies like McDonald’s should therefore embrace the measure and use their influence to stop efforts to undermine the council,” the group said in its letter to the fast-food giant.

The group’s move is part of a larger effort by unions to block restaurant chain signature drives. Affiliated groups announced a nationwide “strike” against fast food chains participating in the effort. The Fast Act was converted into law through the efforts of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Last week, labor advocates charged that signature collectors are lying to local residents about what they support when they add their names to the petition. The allegations, filed with California’s Attorney General, were backed up by secretly recorded videos of the signature collectors telling would-be signers that the petition calls for an increase in the wages of fast-track workers and does not put any action on the 2024 ballot to kill the fasting law.

SOC’s efforts may carry more weight due to its affiliation with pension funds that claim to hold $250 billion in assets and notably a large stake in McDonald’s.

These potential investment funds are the retirement pools of several unions that have formed an alliance called the Strategic Organizing Center. She strives to use her investment potential to influence the leadership of public companies.

The campaign is administered by Save Local Restaurants, a coalition of the International Franchise Association, the National Restaurant Association and the US Chamber of Commerce.

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