According to a new report from UC San Francisco and Harvard, fast food workers in California are paid almost $3 an hour less – or almost $6,000 less a year – than workers in comparable service sector jobs across the state.
Project Shift findings from schools also show that they are more likely to have unpredictable schedules, with most employees working fewer hours than they would like. The study was not paid for by the fast food industry but rather based on a survey of field employees.
Workers, bolstered by union support, have been fighting for higher wages for years.
The Service Employees International Union is pushing for passage of Assembly Bill 257 as part of its ongoing “Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign. The legislation would create a state-run board to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions for California’s more than 700,000 fast-food workers.
California’s minimum wage for all businesses is set to increase to $15.50 an hour on January 1, 2023. But several cities have already surpassed that figure, including Los Angeles ($16.04), Pasadena ($16.11) and Malibu ($15.96).
Wages have risen, but unionization in the industry remains elusive.
The pay gap
The average hourly wage for fast-food workers in the Golden State is $16.21 an hour, or $31,050 a year, according to the report, but other service-sector workers average $19.15 per hour, or $36,892 per year.
The study defines workers in “other service industries” as hourly paid employees in grocery stores, department stores, retail stores, clothing stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, electronics stores and casual restaurants.
“While different areas of the state may differ in the cost of living, the overall living wage for California is estimated at $21.82 per hour, which translates to $45,386 per year for a single adult,” the study said.
The “Low Pay, Less Predictability: Fast Food Jobs in California” report surveyed 2,034 service-industry workers in California between spring 2021 and spring 2022. It calls the pay gap “a striking income gap” that falls “well below a living wage”.
“California fast food workers earn only two-thirds of what a single adult without children needs in a year to meet their basic needs,” the analysis says.
Anneisha Williams, a Jack in the Box employee and home helper in Los Angeles, is among those struggling to make ends meet.
“I have to work two jobs and I still struggle to pay the rent each month,” she said. “The only way to fix this is to give workers like me a voice at work and improve standards across the state.”
Rents are rising
The service worker’s burden adds to rising rents in Southern California.
Los Angeles County’s average monthly rent increased 14% in the second quarter of 2022 from a year earlier. That propelled it to an all-time high of $2,407, according to a Southern California News Group composite of three major apartment indexes.
Orange County saw an 18.5% year-over-year increase, bringing its average to $2,570 per month, and the Inland Empire’s average rent rose 16.4% for reach $2,002.
Mysheka Ronquillo, who works as a cook and cashier at a Carl’s Jr. in Los Angeles, earns $16 an hour. It’s not enough, she says, and her schedules are erratic.
“One week they might give you 32 and the next week it might be 4,” the 40-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “So basically…I don’t have a budget. Sometimes I don’t know what my schedule is for the week until the night before.
Ronquillo also provides home care for two patients and cares for her 18-year-old daughter, who has autism.
“It’s really like three jobs,” she said.
Thirty-eight percent of fast food workers in California report working less than 35 hours per week. Although some appreciate the reduced hours, 51% said they would prefer to work longer hours, according to the report.
Fast food workers held rallies in Los Angeles and Orange counties last month to demand passage of AB 257, otherwise known as the Fast Recovery Act, which aims to protect them from wage theft, sexual harassment, safety violations and workplace violence.
The measure was passed by the Senate Labor, Public Employment, and Pensions Committee in June and is expected to be heard Thursday, August 11, by the Senate Appropriations Committee before moving to a full Senate vote later this month. this.
Franchisees speak out
Stop AB 257, a coalition of franchisees and franchisors who oppose the legislation, says the bill would lead to higher prices and be redundant since California already has some of the strongest worker protection laws in the country. .
Michaela Mendelsohn, franchisee of six El Pollo Loco restaurants in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, agreed.
“I think employees need better training on where to raise their concerns,” she said. “Most probably don’t have a clue who to call, other than their attorney.”
Workers who have complaints — wage-related or otherwise — can direct them to CalOSHA or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Mendelsohn said.
“I think this is all based on a false premise,” she said. “If you look at state statistics, they show that just over 1% of complaints of harassment and other workplace issues come from employees in the fast food industry.”
The coalition spoke out against the bill as workers caravanned through Orange County last month.
“Theater today cannot hide the fact that AB 257 would only harm California restaurants and the customers who frequent them,” the band said in a statement. “The higher costs created by this bill mean fewer opportunities for contractors and employees, thanks to fewer store openings, fewer jobs and reduced hours.”
Jesse Lara, a franchisee who operates 34 El Pollo Loco restaurants in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, doesn’t like the idea of an unelected body setting wages and workplace regulations for the industry.
“We employ over 1,000 Californians, so we could either see real damage to our business or have to pass the increased costs on to consumers,” he said. “At that point, you have to wonder if you would see the same people walking through the door.”
Lara said her restaurants were already struggling with inflationary price hikes.
“We have seen a huge increase in the cost of food,” he said. “We’re paying nearly 80% more for chicken breasts, and frying oil is up more than 50%.”
Ronquillo disagrees and said a bill like AB 257 should have been signed into law a long time ago.
“For a very long time, we felt like no one had a voice and no one would listen,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to speak up for yourself, because you never know how your voice alone could impact people to bring about positive change.”
Lara said many workers seem content to keep the jobs they have, instead of moving up the ladder.
“Some just don’t take opportunities to get into positions where they could have better paying jobs,” he said. “Thirty of our 34 managers started with us in entry-level positions. There is great potential for growth. »
Writer Jeff Collins contributed to this report.