Business, Restaurants, Siskiyou

Gavin Newsom signs law boosting minimum wage for fast-food workers. Is $20 enough?

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Earning $17 an hour at a Los Angeles Jack-in-the-Box, Anneisha Williams has struggled for years to keep up with rent and bills. The Inglewood native is facing eviction, she said. 

She teared up describing how Assembly Bill 1228, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in Los Angeles on Thursday, will affect her life by raising her hourly minimum wage to $20 in April.  

More than half a million fast food workers will get the wage increase, most of them minorities and women, Newsom said during the signing event. 

Williiams said she hopes it’ll allow her to save some money and maybe take her six children to Disneyland someday.

But not all fast food workers are as hopeful about the financial impact of the new law on their lives. Some workers said the wage hike will allow them to keep up with basic bills and rent, but no more than that. 

“It’s a relief, yes, but our fight continues,” said Laura Pozos, who works in an East L.A. McDonald’s.

“Sometimes I didn’t have enough to feed my children. Honestly, it’s so sad to go through that, to be in a country that is rich in everything and to go through that.”

Angelica Hernandez, fast food worker in monterey park

The average hourly wage for fast food workers in California last year was $16.21, according to a report by the Harvard Kennedy School and UC San Francisco. 

The new law would raise base wages for so-called quick-serve restaurants to at least $20 an hour and create a restaurant industry council that would set future pay raises and advise on working conditions. 

Minimum wage deal

The law is the product of compromise. Restaurateurs agreed to withdraw a proposed November 2024 ballot measure that would have undone a just approved, landmark law creating a fast food industry council. 

In exchange, labor advocates withdrew a proposed bill that would have linked the legal liability of franchisees’ labor violations to the franchisor corporations.

Newsom said negotiating to get the restaurant industry referendum off the ballot was like moving “a tectonic plate.”

“I can assure you, this wasn’t easy,” Newsom said. “It was a profoundly consequential prospect. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, would have been spent on that ballot to roll back the progress that the Assembly members had made.”

The law establishes a state-run council for five years, with business and worker representatives and a member of the public. They will set wage standards and advise on work conditions, scheduling, and health and safety standards in fast food restaurants, which labor organizers have mostly failed to unionize. 

The state’s labor and commerce staff can sit in but cannot vote.

Restaurant industry officials said the newly signed law is the best outcome possible. The industry had been preparing to spend $120 million on the referendum.

Matt Haller, president of the International Franchise Association, said in a statement  the new law “preserves the franchise business model.” 

“Common sense has prevailed, as franchising is responsible for creating opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people to become small business owners, and this agreement eliminates the existential threats our members faced,” he said.

Working for change

Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Democrat from Pasadena who authored the original and compromise legislation, thanked franchise owners for their willingness to negotiate a deal and the workers who advocated for the law. 

“I saw firsthand all of you who gave your blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “To see so many of you today who were there through the process, knocking on members’ doors, sleeping out on Capitol Park, walking out in the morning with bells and whistles to make sure all of us were paying attention. I say, to God be the glory.” 

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Chris Holden


Chris Holden

State Assembly, District 41 (Pasadena)

Chris Holden

State Assembly, District 41 (Pasadena)

How he voted 2021-2022

District 41 Demographics

Voter Registration



No party


Campaign Contributions

Asm. Chris Holden has taken at least
$1.7 million
from the Labor
sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents
of his total campaign contributions.

Some workers said they were proud their hard work finally paid off. 

“Little old me, Anneisha Williams, mother of six, never thought I could move mountains with the help and support of so many people,” Williams said. “There were so many people against us that told us ‘No.’ They sent these people out there with this referendum and told us ‘No.’ But guess what? We told them ‘Yes we can.’”

While the wage increase was welcome, some workers said they were more excited about getting a seat at the table with the fast food council, even though the deal pared back some of the council’s power. Now the fast food council has authority over minimum wage increases, but it has an advisory role over other issues.

A living wage?

Pozos, the McDonald’s worker, said that $20 an hour is still not enough to thrive — it won’t even help her save money — but the legislation was about winning against multi-million-dollar corporations like her employer.

Pozos lives with her husband, a teenager and an adult daughter with special needs.  The family struggles to pay the $3,600 rent, she said. 

“This is going to help me to be able to pay the bills with my husband, to have more groceries for my daughters and, more than anything, it’s an important accomplishment since we’ve been going out on strikes, going door to door to talk to legislators, visiting Sacramento for this law to be passed,” she said. But “my life will continue as normal.” 

Fast food workers chant at a press conference where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation boosting wages to $20 an hour at SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters
Fast food workers chant at a press conference where Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation boosting wages to $20 an hour at SEIU Local 721 in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

In general, $20 an hour is not considered a living wage in California. For a working couple with one child, that would be $23.81 an hour and for a single adult with no children, it would be $21.24, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator

Pozos said she still hopes her workplace, and the fast food industry in general, will one day be unionized, so workers gain power over schedules and working conditions and can fight workplace retaliation and wage theft. 

Pozos added she is worried that the wage increase will motivate employers to reduce workers’ hours. 

Living free

After Newsom signed the bill, Pozos celebrated with her friend Angelica Hernandez and other workers as a mariachi band played at the Service Employees International Union Local 721 office in downtown Los Angeles.

Hernandez said she was “super happy, super proud” to have supported the legislation. A fast food worker in Monterey Park, Hernandez said she has worked for McDonald’s for 19 years, earned minimum wage at times, and struggled to stay housed. 

“I’ve lived with my children and husband in a car or a cheap hotel that had cockroaches,” she said. “Sometimes I didn’t have enough to feed my children. Honestly, it’s so sad to go through that, to be in a country that is rich in everything and to go through that.” 

Hernandez said a raise from her current $18.18 hourly to $20 won’t be life-changing, but it’ll allow her to buy a candy bar while grocery shopping without overdrawing her account.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to save with this, but I’ll be able to live more freely,” she said. 

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