Workers have shown "when they come together what kind of power they can have to really take on massive corporations like Starbucks, McDonald's, and Burger King," said one labor leader.
With plans to win annual raises and other labor protections for fast food cooks and cashiers across California, hundreds of workers in the industry gathered in Los Angeles on Friday to mark the launch of a first-of-its kind union.
Part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the new California Fast Food Workers Union represents workers at companies including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Jack in the Box, and organizers hope to eventually expand its membership to other employees in the industry in addition to cooks and cashiers.
The union was formed after fast food workers, the SEIU, and the Fight for $15 movement fought for the passage of a California law last year that created a fast food council, allowing labor unions and companies to negotiate over minimum wages and work conditions—a first for the industry.
The SEIU reached a deal with several chains to raise the minimum pay for 500,000 fast food workers to $20 per hour starting in April.
"California fast food workers have powered through and we've been winning against one of the largest industries in the world," said one worker in a video posted on social media by the union to celebrate the launch.
Joseph Bryant, international executive vice-president of the SEIU, noted that the push for labor protections and higher wages in the industry has "been led in California over the last decade by primarily Black and Latino cooks and cashiers."
The workers "have been fighting and have been able to show when they come together what kind of power they can have to really take on massive corporations like Starbucks, McDonald's, and Burger King, which have done everything to crush their workers and crush the idea of them pulling together a union," Bryant told The Guardian.
The union plans to push for a 3.5% increase of the minimum wage over the next three years, protections to ensure companies have "just cause" to fire workers, rules to ensure that employees are scheduled to work enough hours to sustain themselves, and protections against retaliation for organizing.
Fight for $15 called the launch "an historic day."
"Fast food workers have worked for more than a decade to come to this point," said the nationwide grassroots organization. "We're so excited to be here, and even more excited for what's to come."