SAN DIEGO (KSWB) – A new measure is now before California lawmakers aimed at improving the working conditions for fast-food workers across the state.

The proposal introduced by State Assemblyman Chris Holden on Friday would amend state law to shift liability for violations of workplace and health regulations from individual franchise locations to the corporation behind it.

“As a former fast-food franchisee, I know how much pressure maintaining a safe and healthy working environment puts on local owner-operators, especially when global corporations refuse to contribute their share,” Holden said in a press release announcing the bill.

A similar measure was proposed by state legislators in New York earlier this year and is currently in committee.

Supporters of the bill, including labor advocacy group Service Employees International Union, say that this would help support workers and franchisees alike, by moving the onus of maintenance on a safe and healthy work environment away from local owner-operators.

“This is what I would call groundbreaking legislation,” Tia Orr, executive director of SEIU of California, said to “What the bill hopes to do is allow for wage theft, for example, discrimination, retaliation and other labor violations that run rampant in this industry…to force some ownership and responsibility for the corporation.”

The bill faces strong opposition from fast-food corporations, however, who argue that adding joint liability to the franchise model would overly complicate restaurant operations and discourage diverse ownership.

“This bill ignores existing labor rules and instead places a punitive layer of regulations on a single segment of one industry,” National Restaurant Association executive vice president of public affairs, Sean Kennedy, said in a written statement. “Adding this layer of joint liability will create chaos for current operators and employees and making new restaurant entrepreneurs think twice about entering the industry.”

More than 557,000 workers are employed across California’s 30,000 fast-food locations, according to SEIU estimates. 

A survey conducted by another fast-food labor advocacy group, Fight for $15, suggests that nearly 425,000 of these workers in California have experienced some form of wage theft, including unpaid work, minimum wage and overtime violations, paycheck problems and rest or meal break issues.

Fast-food workers have also reported frequent incidents of discrimination, assault or harassment while on the clock.

“I’ve seen colleagues working in different fast food (restaurants) mistreated, sometimes discriminated against (or) unjustly fired,” Rafael Michel, a San Diego resident and McDonald’s worker, told “We don’t have just or dignified salaries for the work that we do…oftentimes working in unsafe and uncomfortable working conditions.”

“(We’re) fighting for respect for workers and also fighting so that workers are guaranteed better working conditions and safe conditions at work,” Michel continued. “(This bill) is going to help hold fast food corporations accountable and to ensure that the legal mandates are respected so that employees can have their legal rights respected.” 

Efforts to address worker conditions have faced strong opposition from the industry, however, with the last major initiative being temporarily blocked by a State Superior Court judge after corporations lobbied to move the law to a referendum on the November 2024 ballot.

Known as the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, the bill, which was signed into law in September 2022, established a council consisting of business owners, fast-food workers, labor representatives and government officials to set standards on wages, working hours and conditions.

“These are tactics to try to overturn laws that the legislature clearly adopted and the government clearly signed, it adds fuel to that flame,” Orr said. “The legislature is not necessarily happy with their corporate dominance and the games that they’re playing to take away their power.”

Several other bills aimed at expanding the rights of fast-food workers are also before state lawmakers, including a measure introduced earlier this week that would place the financial responsibility for food safety training on employers and eliminate the requirement of having an existing food handler card for prospective workers.

“The way to address this issue is not going to be by one proposal or one bill or one specific fix,” Orr said. “The problems in this industry are so dominant that it’s going to take a multifaceted effort for us to be able to get some parity.”