Employment and Jobs

Opinion: Why California Is Right To Regulate Fast Food

September 18, 2022  • Maureen Conway & Shelly Steward

This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Fast-food workers and their supporters march past the Capitol in Sacramento on August 16

Photo credit: The Washington Post/Rich Pedroncelli/AP

The Sept. 14 editorial objecting to California’s Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, “This labor law needs some work,” recognized that workers in the industry are experiencing real harms — wage theft, discrimination, harassment and other violations.

The idea that we should tolerate poverty wages so that consumers can avoid a 17 percent increase in fast-food costs is morally problematic. Is it right to perpetuate a system that exploits people so that other people can save a buck on a hamburger?

Although some franchise owners are technically small businesses, they operate in the context of large corporations whose onerous rules push them to adopt these abusive labor practices. Industry-wide standards raise standards as a whole, and as such do not place individual franchises at a competitive disadvantage.

The proffered “better way” of enforcing existing labor law and expanding the earned-income tax credit would certainly be a good thing, but we should also ask ourselves how far we want to go in asking taxpayers to underwrite the paychecks of working people. Moreover, one of the enforcement challenges is how difficult it is for workers to raise a flag about violations. The Fast Food Councils created by California’s legislation would create a far better vehicle for workers to surface violations than currently exists.

Fast food is big business. It has been hugely profitable and should pay its own bills. And if it has a habit of not following the rules, then new structures to bring it in line should be celebrated.


“Fast food is big business… and should pay its own bills.” @conway_maureen and @shellysteward describe why California’s new fast food law is a step forward for worker voice — raising standards without putting franchises as a competitive disadvantage.

Learn more

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

* indicates required

Mailing Lists