Looking for a seat at the table: Fast-food workers walk out for better pay, working conditions

Employees across California demand the passage of AB 257 for $15 minimum wage and stricter safety standards.

Fast-food employees protest poor working conditions.

Los Angeles service workers, community organizers and local politicians gathered outside the McDonalds in Monterey Park today as part of a statewide demonstration advocating better working conditions and a standard minimum wage for fast food workers. The protest also called for the passing of Assembly Bill 257, which would set wage and working standards for workers in food facilities.

Demonstrators held up banners that read “Pass AB 257″ and wore shirts that said “Fight For $15 AND A Union.” They were joined by California state Senator Bob Archuleta (D-32nd), and California state Assembly members Miguel Santiago (D-53rd) and Richard Bloom (D-50th). All three politicians voiced their support for AB 257.

The bill, also known as the FAST Act, would create a council of 11 members to “establish industry-wide minimum standards on wages, working hours, and other working conditions related to the health, safety, and welfare of fast food restaurant workers.”

“Workers across California are walking off the job and going on strike to demand that the legislature pass AB 257, so that they have a seat at the table, so that fast food workers can actually have a voice and say what some of the standards should be on the job,” said Felipe Caceres, who demonstrated with Fight For $15, a national organization pushing for a standard, $15 minimum wage.

Fast-food employees protest poor working conditions.

Fast food restaurants have been under fire recently for unsafe working conditions. Employees at the Monterey Park McDonalds allege that sewage flooded their kitchen. Other fast food employees have voiced complaints about working in hot facilities without air conditioning.

“It’s really disheartening that people have us working [in] those conditions…but it’s like…what are we supposed to do when we need to put food on the table for our family?” said Mysheka Ronquillo, a fast food employee.

Ronquillo said she routinely had to work 12 or 16 hour shifts with only one 30-minute break. Employees across the fast food industry have voiced concerns over working long shifts in unsanitary conditions that fail to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols.

“You feel like you can’t stop, you feel like you can’t take a break,” Ronquillo said. “It’s just very stressful because it’s like you want to do your best at your job. But then it’s like at the same time, you have to have some type of self-preservation and there’s none there.

Fast food workers are not represented by a union. While AB 257 would not directly establish a union for fast food employees, demonstrators emphasized the importance of unionizing and workers’ solidarity.

Fast-food employees protest poor working conditions.

“It’s important that legislation like AB 257 passes in order to give folks a voice and also an upper leg in organizing and ensuring that other workers understand that they will not lose their jobs, they will not be harassed if they do decide to join a union,” said Kenia Alcocer, an organizer with the Los Angeles Tenants Union, who joined the protest.

AB 257 was initially introduced to the California State Assembly in January 2021 and was defeated by three votes. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-80th), who authored the bill, filed to have AB 257 reconsidered and voted on again in January 2022.

While the statewide demonstration was only slated for Tuesday afternoon, Ronquillo hopes the fight for better working conditions will continue.

“There just comes a time where we have to stand up for ourselves. And if you can’t stand up for yourself, we’re going to be here to stand up for you,” Ronquillo said.