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California governor signs new exemptions for state fast food minimum wage

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(The Center Square) – Just days before the state’s $20 fast food minimum wage goes into effect on April 1, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a spate of exemptions expanding past the original exemption allegedly tailored for Panera Bread alone. News reports allege a major Panera franchise owner and Newsom donor was behind the Panera exemption.

These new exemptions are for fast food restaurants in airports, hotels, large event centers, theme parks, museums, gambling establishments, corporate campuses, and certain public lands, and were supported by the state’s major unions as a “cleanup” for the $20 wage and fast food workplace oversight council negotiated behind closed door under non-disclosure-agreements that left some union groups in the dark.

These groups only backed the $20 wage bill after being promised this cleanup bill, which provides exemptions for many of the types of facilities their unions have significant membership in, thereby protecting their existing union agreements, especially from the fast food council.

The fast food wage and labor council, now combined with the exemptions, will provide workplace protections and wages for non-unionized fast food employees similar but still inferior to those provided by unions, without undermining membership and agreements of the unions.

This exemption bill was written by the original author of the state’s $20 fast food minimum wage law, Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena. Holden alleges he knew nothing about the exemption for Panera in last year’s wage law — which specifically exempted major fast food chains serving bread baked on-premises to be sold as a standalone item, a category that only includes Panera.

The Panera exemption drew national outcry after Bloomberg reported billionaire Greg Flynn, the largest franchise owner in the United States, second-largest Panera operator in the world and a major donor of the governor’s — used his influence to secure a Panera carve-out.

Before reporting on the Panera exemption, Holden picked up an inactive bill on transportation and rewrote it to focus on exemptions to his fast food minimum wage law.

The Service Employees International Union – Holden’s largest donor on record, and supporter of the fast food minimum wage – and Unite Here!, which represents members in the hospitality industry employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers, endorsed the new cleanup bill.

“These facilities include worksites where, across many parts of California, workers are often not directly employed by a fast food franchisor, franchisee, or restaurant operator, and compensation already exceeds that which might be provided for under AB 1228 (in some cases, by more than $10 and even $20 per hour),” the unions wrote.

California’s fast food minimum wage goes into effect on April 1, driving some companies to initiate mass layoffs and major price increases. One Pizza Hut franchise operator in California is laying off 1,200 drivers ahead of the wage hike, while Chipotle and McDonalds say they are raising prices.