Order Up! $20 minimum wage ready for pick-up

In an era characterized by growing income inequality and economic disparity, the issue of minimum wage has emerged frequently in public policy. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom made significant progress on Sept. 28 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 1228, which increased the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 per hour, effective April 1, 2024. The decision is crucial because it is not merely an economic policy shift; it is a bold step toward addressing income inequality that impacts millions of Californians.

The new law, written by Assemblymember Chris R. Holden, authorizes the creation of a Fast Food Council to convene monthly to set standards for minimum wage for fast food restaurants, defined as dining establishments with at least 60 locations nationwide.

The council will develop proposals that factor in employee health, safety standards and training and can increase the minimum wage by 3.5% a year or the increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index, whichever is less, beginning in 2025.

California has long been at the forefront of progressive policies — major climate action bills, housing proposals, consistent support for labor unions — and this recent wage increase is no exception. Since Jan. 1, the California minimum wage, regardless of profession, has been $15.50 per hour —the highest the nation has ever seen.

The statistics speak volumes: the average hourly wage for fast- food workers in California currently stands at $16.21, according to the California Bureau of Labor Statistics. This falls significantly short of the basic cost of living in a state known for its high living expenses.

According to the real estate corporation Redfin, the median home price in California is projected to rise 6.2% in 2024 — from$810,000 in 2023 to $860,300.

AB 1228 aims to ensure fast food workers can support their families without falling into poverty.

There are stories of countless workers silently grappling with the harsh realities of minimum wage for far too long. The $20 minimum wage is not just an arbitrary number; it is a lifeline to a better future for these individuals.

Critics argue that such a significant increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers could lead to higher operational costs for businesses, potentially resulting in job cuts or price hikes for consumers. Further, there are worries that raising the minimum wage to $20 per hour may contribute to inflation, as businesses may burden consumers with their increased labor costs in the form of higher prices. However, it is important to note that inflation is influenced by a myriad of factors (demand-pull and cost-push), not just labor costs.

Moreover, any short-term drawbacks of a wage increase should be weighed against the long-term social benefits of lifting workers out of poverty and reducing income inequality. It is time to confront the undeniable truth that beneath the figures and statistics lie the stories of millions of workers battling not only for a fair wage but also for a chance to provide for their families and escape the clutches of poverty. The $20 minimum wage in California’s fast food industry is a significant step toward achieving this goal. It is a reminder that change is possible and that a brighter, more equitable future is within our reach.

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