Judge puts hold on California law that could have raised fast-food worker wages

A car with signs reading "$15 #Fight for 15" passes a McDonald's restaurant.
Fast-food workers with Fight for 15, a campaign pushing for higher wages, staged a drive-through protest outside a McDonald’s restaurant in East Los Angeles in 2021. The campaign supported the passage of Assembly Bill 257, a California law that opens the door to higher wages. A coalition of fast-food corporations and business trade groups is seeking to block the law.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
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A Sacramento County Superior Court judge has put a temporary hold on a new California law boosting protections for fast-food workers that was set to go into effect Jan. 1.

The order comes in response to a lawsuit filed Thursday by a coalition of major restaurant and business trade groups that is backing an effort to overturn the law, called Assembly Bill 257, through a referendum on the California ballot in November 2024. If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, it would block AB 257 until voters have a say.

A restaurant coalition sued to block implementation of AB 257, the California law that would, among other things, create a worker representative body with the power to raise wages.

Dec. 29, 2022

The coalition, called Save Local Restaurants, took issue with the state Department of Industrial Relations’ effort to implement AB 257 on Jan. 1, arguing that because the referendum effort is well underway, it renders the law unenforceable. Implementing the law could set a harmful precedent that threatens voters’ right of referendum, the coalition said.


Erin Mellon, a spokesperson with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, said Thursday that the law would be put into effect while election authorities completed the process of verifying voter signatures necessary to qualify the referendum. However, state officials “will, of course, abide by any court order,” she said in an email.

Also known as the Fast Recovery Act, AB 257 would, among other things, create a worker representative body with the power to raise wages.

The temporary restraining order was issued by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang “in light of the incredibly short time frame provided to the Court to hear this matter,” she wrote. The lawsuit was filed Thursday and sought an injunction for the next day.

The order prevents the law from being implemented until the court has a chance to hear the case and decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a nation-leading measure giving more than a half million fast-food workers in California more power and protections, despite the objections of restaurant owners who warned it would drive up consumers’ costs.

Sept. 5, 2022

The deadline for election authorities to complete a random sample verification of signatures is Jan. 25. The California secretary of state’s office will decide whether to certify the referendum after verification is completed.

Save Local Restaurants submitted slightly more than 1 million unverified signatures this month, well above the required minimum, making it likely the referendum will be certified for the ballot.


AB 257, which Newsom signed on Labor Day, was the focus of intense lobbying by labor, restaurant and business groups. Fast-food corporations and franchisees argued that it unfairly singled out their industry and would burden operations with higher labor costs and cause food prices to soar.

The landmark law creates a mandate for a first-of-its-kind council to set standards for franchise restaurant workers’ hours and other workplace conditions. It also could raise the workers’ minimum wage as high as $22 an hour.

The law requires the signatures of 10,000 fast-food restaurant employees to move forward with creation of the council once the law goes into effect.

Service Employees International Union California, which sponsored AB 257 and opposes the effort to overturn it, said it has submitted nearly double the number of signatures required by the statute to establish the Fast Food Council.

After AB 257 became law, labor advocates who sponsored the legislation alleged that signatures supporting the referendum were obtained fraudulently. The referendum proponents called the complaint, filed both with California’s secretary of state and its attorney general’s office, “frivolous.”