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    Top Of The Food Chain

    By Ben Chrisopher

    Fast food workers and labor advocates wrapped up two days of marching, chanting and mariachi playing around the state Capitol on Wednesday, part of years-long campaign for a legislative proposal that could transform California’s fast food industry.

    The headline summary of Assembly Bill 257: It would allow a state board to set wages, hours and work conditions for the entire industry, supercharging the bargaining power of its more than 700,000 low-wage, mostly non-unionized workers.

    But there’s more to the fast food bill if you peek under the bun.

    As Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team explains, the labor-backed bill would also put the corporations that own fast food chains — along with the individual franchise owners — on the legal hook for wage and hour violations. That has the potential to upend the business model upon which countless burgers have been sold.

    Whether that’s a good thing depends on whom you ask:

    • Janice Fine, a labor studies professor at Rutgers University: “How you hold the companies at the top of the food chain, who are really setting the terms and conditions of employment, responsible for the lower levels — California has been way ahead on that.”
    • Jeff Hanscom of the International Franchise Association: “You’d be holding an entity responsible or assigning liability for things they don’t have control over.”

    That’s only if the bill becomes law. With the legislative session ending Aug. 31, this is among the most contentious proposals that lawmakers still have to grapple with, one that cleaves California’s ruling Democrats between its labor-aligned progressives and business-friendly moderates. It’s also one of the few California bills that’s drawn the attention of national news outlets and opinion writers.

    Though the bill cleared an important legislative hurdle last week, it still has to pass the Senate, possibly ping back to the Assembly to resolve any last-minute changes and then get the sign-off from Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom hasn’t said where he stands on the issue, but his own Department of Finance announced its opposition earlier this summer.

    A 20-point equity gap at the Cal States: CalMatters and CBS are collaborating on a project to explore the causes of — and solutions to — the Cal State system graduating its Black students at far lower rates than white, Asian and select other groups.

    The CBS California stations will be running the first in a series of broadcast news stories today and Friday: at 5 p.m. on KPIX5 in the Bay Area; 9 p.m. on CBS2 in Los Angeles; and 10 p.m. on CBS13 in Sacramento. These broadcast reports will build on CalMatters’ own reporting about these graduation gaps. CalMatters will have more on the problem and possible solutions in a follow-up story next week.

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