Militant Journalism

San Diego fast food workers join statewide strike

On June 9, fast food workers across California went on strike to protest mistreatment on the job
and demand the passage of AB 257. In San Diego, the workers were joined in solidarity by fellow fast food workers and members of various local unions and community organizations, such as the Service Employees International Union Local 221, University Professional and Technical Employees – Research Professionals, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

SEIU Local 221 and its Fight for $15 campaign kicked off the picket at 8 a.m. in front of the Jack in the Box Corporate Headquarters. Jack in the Box is the only major fast food chain that is headquartered in San Diego. As the crowd assembled, most donning red shirts saying “unions for all,” speakers gave testimony about the abuses they faced on the job and spoke of the need for change — some even called for revolution. Demonstrators marched to the nearby intersection, where a contingent of 13 members proceeded to block the intersection and were then arrested by police.

The plight of California’s fast food workers

Fast food workers are the largest and fastest growing group of low-wage workers in the state and lack
sector-specific protections. Jack in the Box faced many complaints ranging from unsafe conditions to wage theft, and workers who try to stand up for their rights are frequently met with retaliation, intimidation, or are even ridiculed.

When a Sacramento Jack in the Box’s air conditioning broke during a heat wave, the manager told the workers they were “going through menopause.” Workers responded with a strike and the “menopause manager” is no longer with the company.

Throughout the pandemic, many Jack in the Box workers have been forced to show up to work sick. Even those with paid sick leave are afraid to use it due to threat of retaliation to permanently cut their hours.

Workers also report sexual harassment and racism. One such example includes threats of ICE being called on workers for trying to organize.

Why workers need AB 257 to pass

In January, the California state assembly passed AB 257, known as the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act or FAST Recovery Act. AB 257 is now heading to a vote in the State Senate. The proposed bill would establish the Fast Food Sector Council within the Department of Industrial Relations, and the council would establish sector wide minimum standards.

Liberation News spoke with Karina Zuniga, a worker at Kentucky Fried Chicken in National City. Zuniga gave similar examples of retaliation where managers punished workers by stripping them of hours and even days of work. Zuniga said a union would make her and her fellow workers be “respected” by guaranteeing “paid time off, paid sick leave, and honoring their hours and days.” She also argued that the passage of AB 257, which would set up a statewide labor regulatory council, would be a huge step in the right direction because the workers would “finally have a seat at the table where we could report issues like wage theft and other abuses.”

While AB 257 would help regulate large fast food companies that have 30 or more
establishments nationally, restaurants with fewer than 30 locations or restaurants that are not
considered fast food would be exempt. Still, this would be a huge win for the more than 725,000 fast
food workers statewide — 44,000 of whom live in San Diego — and for whom these rights cannot come
soon enough.

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