Workforce

Bill introduced in Virginia that would mimic California's fast food law

The newly introduced proposal would go further than the Fast Act in some respects, such as requiring instruction from what sounds like unions.
Virginia Fast Act
The Virginia legislature is considering a Fast Act-like bill. / Photograph: Shutterstock

As restaurant industry groups warned, California’s controversial new model for setting fast-food wages and working conditions has been introduced in another state.

The proposal in Virginia’s House of Delegates goes farther in some respects than California’s Fast Act, which is on hold until the first-of-its-kind law is put to a referendum vote in November 2024.

For instance, the Virginia bill sets training mandates, including a requirement that all fast-food workers take a one-hour course every six months on employee rights and protections. That instruction would be led by what the bill terms a certified worker organization,” or what sounds like a union.

Fast-food employers would be required to provide proof that every employee has taken the course, and to pay the enrollees for the time they spend in the training sessions.

The employers would also be obligated to give the certified worker organization the names of each enrollee to in the courses, along with their contact information. The only exceptions would be workers who expressly ask their employers not to provide those details.

But the political climate in Virginia is much different than the situation in California, hands-down one of the union's most liberal and pro-labor state. California Gov. Gavin Newsom enthusiastically signed the Fast Act into law on Labor Day to make the point that he's pro-union.

Virginia's governor, Glenn Youngkin, is one of the nation's most conservative state leaders. The Republican is much less reliant on labor's support. 

In addition, the House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans. The only lawmaking body under Democratic control is the state Senate. 

But some in the industry have raised concerns that a proliferation of Fast Act-like bills could spread the industry's lobbying resources too thin. Just defeating the Fast Act via the 2024 referendum is expected to cost many tens of millions of dollars.

Like the Fast Act, the Virginia bill would create a state council with the power to determine wages and working conditions for employees of Virginia fast-food restaurants that are part of a chain of at least 100 units. The panel would include four fast-food workers and four quick-service employers, along with a number of state officials, including either the governor or a member of his cabinet.

The measure also copies the Fast Act provision that allows any municipality with at least 2,000 residents to set up its own council.

McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger cited the Virginia proposal as yet another warning of “what our future could look like” if the Fast Act isn’t scuttled and copycat measures aren’t quashed. “This threat is real,” he wrote in a blog posted on the burger giant’s site.

“If you see special-interest legislation like this coming your way, workers, consumers and small business owners need to unite and demand better,” Erlinger wrote.

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