Fast Food Workers Must be Empowered, Not Exploited

Legislation will Strengthen Workers’ Voices in Workplace Health and Safety Standards 

Sacramento, CA (April 28, 2021) – The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California released the following statement upon the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s approval of the Fast Food Accountability and Standards (FAST) Recovery Act, AB 257 (Gonzalez). This landmark legislation will address long-standing concerns over worker safety and prevent exploitation in the fast food restaurant industry by giving workers the power to help set industry-wide health and safety standards and hold corporations accountable for keeping workers safe. 

Bob Schoonover, President of SEIU California and Executive Director of SEIU 721, stated:“Fast food workers are demanding a voice in their industry because they know that without it, all the well-intentioned laws in the world won’t amount to anything. The only way to create lasting change for workers is for workers to have a seat at the table and the ability to change their currently intolerable work conditions. We’re glad that the Assembly Judiciary Committee agreed and passed AB 257.”

Maria Ruiz, a fast food worker from San Jose, testified at the committee meeting, stating: 
“In my 17 years in fast-food I have seen these companies place their profits above all else, even if it risks worker or customer safety. COVID-19 is just the latest crisis workers have had to face without our voices being heard by our bosses. For eight years, workers in the Fight for $15 and a Union have been speaking out and going on strike to try and win better protections and respect at work. AB 257 is an important step toward winning real power for half a million fast-food workers in California.”


While California has emerged as a leader in worker protections during this unprecedented pandemic, “many fast-food workers have not been able to take advantage of them,” reported the Sacramento Bee. Fast food workers are particularly vulnerable to wage theft and exploitation, and the pandemic revealed how fast food workers are also facing significant hurdles in staying safe at work – among them high customer contact, close working conditions and a lack of PPE. 27% of restaurant employees, which include fast-food as well as sit-down establishments, received no information on COVID safety protections per the Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program.

Unsafe work conditions proved deadly in the pandemic, particularly for workers of color who comprise 80% of fast food workers. A recent study by the University of California at San Francisco showed that food and agricultural workers faced the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19, one reason why Latino workers had a 36% increase in deaths during the pandemic and Black workers had a 28% increase compared to a 6% increase for white workers.