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Fast food workers now earn $20 minimum an hour. What this means for North Bay employees

Sara Edwards - Press Democrat

Apr 3, 2024

The new wage increase went into effect Monday.

Healdsburg resident Rutilia Perez started working at Carl’s Jr. in 2000 with a starting pay of $5.25 an hour. She earned a dollar more an hour a few months later followed by semiannual raises of a few cents each year.

In January, Perez said she and her fellow staff members were told they would be getting a raise in April, but no other details were given.

That raise was related to Assembly Bill 1228 that Gov. Newsom signed last year, requiring fast food workers at certain restaurants earn at least $20 an hour.

“I do think it’s a good idea for us to have a fair salary because it’s a hard job,” Perez said through a translator. “We are the job that gets paid less and we are always working.”

The new law increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers took effect April 1. The bill also established a Fast Food Council that will focus on other employment standards and potentially add another wage increase for fast food restaurants.

The council is made up of members from the fast-food industry, restaurant and franchise owners, restaurant employees and worker advocates along with an additional member who is unaffiliated with the restaurant industry or labor organizations.

Gov. Gavin Newsom stands with cheering fast food workers after signing legislation raising their minimum wage in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

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Many have applauded Newsom’s “Fast Act” law saying it will finally lift up fast food workers, who have historically been left behind when it comes to labor laws and improvements.

“Low wage workers are having a very difficult time making ends meet as it is, even with this tremendous growth over the last four years,” North Bay Labor Council executive director Jack Buckhorn said. “(This law) is really going to lift these workers up and stimulate the economy.”

The minimum wage increase applies only to employees at fast food locations that are considered limited service restaurants — meaning the restaurant offers limited or no table service and customers order food or drink and pay before eating.

The restaurant also has to be part of a chain of at least 60 establishments nationwide primarily focused on selling food and drink for immediate consumption, according to the state Department of Industrial Relations website.

In Sonoma County there are 381 limited service restaurants, according to data from the county’s Economic Development Board, and just over 5,100 jobs in the fast food industry. Workers had an average compensation of $31,967 a year which amounts to approximately $16 an hour, data further showed.

The industry is also expected to see projected growth of 8% between 2023 and 2028.

“The cost of goods and services is currently squeezing families of all sizes and incomes — fast food workers are no exception,” Sonoma County Economic Development Board executive director Ethan Brown said in a statement. “Any industry or employer looking to maintain a strong, happy and healthy workforce is taking a close look at how competitive their wages are.”

While many fast food employees welcomed the wage increase, they’re also uneasy about the long-term effects it could have. Perez worries about the cutting back of employees.

A couple of workers at a Wendy’s in Petaluma worry their hours will be cut in order to afford the minimum wage increase.

A manager for an Auntie Anne’s and Cinnabon location in Santa Rosa echoed these fears. She said she was excited to hear she’d be getting a pay increase but also wonders how much prices are going to increase, something she said customers have regularly asked about even before the minimum wage increase.

Some franchise owners have already begun taking certain steps in the weeks leading up to April 1.

Brian Hom owns and operates two of the more than 75 Vitality Bowls across the U.S., most of which are franchises. There’s a Vitality Bowls in Santa Rosa on Mendocino Avenue and a Marin County location in Mill Valley. Typical menu items include salads, grain bowls and smoothies.

Hom said Monday he already had to lay off some of his staff with only two employees working during its busiest times rather than the typical three to four workers. He has a total of 30 employees between his two stores, most of them high school and college students.

“I tell them (my employees) that I’m happy that they get to make 20 bucks an hour and they’re happy too,” Hom said. “But I also tell them I hope I can keep their hours.”

Hom said he will start monitoring his labor hours day by day and make changes to both staffing and pricing as necessary. He added that with both food and supply costs rising between 10 and 15%, he’s had to look at charging between five and 10% more.

“We’re a small business, not a corporation … so we don’t have excess cash sitting on the side,”

Hom said. “I don’t want to lose them (my workers) but if they see that I can’t give them enough hours, they’ll have to go somewhere else.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

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