Fast food coalition sues to block California labor law AB 257

A group of businesses and restaurant groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday to block California from implementing new labor laws that strengthen protections for fast-food workers.

The landmark California law would, among other things, create a workers’ representative body with the power to raise wages.

The group, known as the Save Local Restaurants Coalition, is trying to qualify a referendum that would suspend the law and ask California voters to keep it or repeal it in the November 2024 ballot. Save Local Restaurants submitted a little more of one million unverified signatures this month, well above the required minimum, making it likely that the referendum will be certified for the ballot.

With the signature verification process still ongoing, the California Department of Industrial Relations said in a letter to the coalition that the law will go into effect January 1.

The coalition said the law’s entry into force would set a “dangerous precedent” that would threaten voters’ right to a referendum. The group filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court to “ensure that the democratic process established by the California Constitution is respected.”

When the Secretary of State issued a notice Dec. 9 acknowledging a sufficient raw number of submitted signatures, AB 257 became “ineffective and unenforceable in its entirety,” the coalition said.

The lawsuit represents another tussle over AB 257, also known as the Fast Recovery Act, amid allegations from labor rights advocates who sponsored the law that signatures were obtained fraudulently and criticism that which deep-pocketed industries have increasingly turned to the ballot to delay passage of progressive legislation. by the state legislature.

More than 50 referendum measures have qualified for the California ballot in the century since the referendum process was created, but “not in a single one of these prior cases has the state ever attempted to temporarily enforce the targeted law during that the signature review process was ongoing,” said Kurt Oneto, an attorney with the Nielsen Merksamer law firm that represents referendum supporters.

“By moving forward with the implementation of AB 257, the state would set a harmful precedent that would effectively render the state’s referendum process meaningless,” Oneto said in a statement.

In Tuesday’s letter to the coalition, Industrial Relations Department Director Katrina Hagen said she and her staff were working to establish the Fast Food Council created by AB 257 and had “an obligation to proceed” to the implementation of the law “in the absence of a clear authority”. provided that AB 257 is suspended simply upon presentation of unverified signatures.

Hagen wrote that the law would be suspended “if and when” the referendum challenging it qualifies for the ballot.

The lawsuit argues in response that referendum supporters have the power to suspend “objectionable law from otherwise taking effect” by completing their end of the process – collecting and filing the minimum number of signatures with county election officials – before the 90 day period.

“Any additional, purely administrative time taken by election officials to complete the process of verifying signatures or ‘certifying’ the measure for the ballot, cannot undermine or interfere with this constitutional right of referendum,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring California officials to suspend implementation of the law on Jan. 1 until the signature verification process is complete and, if there are enough valid signatures to qualify the referendum for the poll, until the voters intervene.

AB 257, signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Labor Day, creates a mandate for a one-of-a-kind board to set standards for wages, hours and other working conditions in the restaurant industry quick.

The law requires the signature of 10,000 fast food workers to go ahead with the creation of the council once the law takes effect. Service Employees International Union California, which sponsored AB 257 and opposes the effort to cancel it, said Dec. 5 that it had obtained those signatures.

The lawsuit names state officials responsible for enforcing AB 257, including Hagen of the Department of Industrial Relations, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber and the state’s attorney. General Rob Bonta.

Representatives of the Department of Industrial Relations and the Office of the Secretary of State did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Justice said the California Department of Industrial Relations was the state attorney general’s client in the case and declined to answer questions.

Counties have until Jan. 25 — 30 business days from the Dec. 9 notice — to conduct a random signature check.

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