Bay Area fast-food workers join statewide strike to demand better conditions, safety standards

Fast-food workers in the Bay Area took part in a statewide strike on Tuesday, demanding better pay and safety standards at their workplaces.

Several dozen demonstrators descended on a Burger King franchise in Campbell on Hamilton Avenue demanded to be heard.

"There is a crisis in our state, and it has gone on for far too long. Even before the COVID epidemic," said Ruth Silver-Taube, of the Santa Clara County Wage Theft Coalition.

Hundreds of fast food cooks, cashiers and counter workers around the Bay Area and across California participated in the one-day walk-out.

Burger King employee Miriam Garcia Anavisca joined the strike after working the early morning shift.

"I feel protected. I feel better. Inside, there’s (so much) tension," Garcia Anavisca said through a Spanish translator.

Organizers said the angst and discomfort felt by workers is driven by low wages and a lack of power in the workplace.

"The capitalist who puts profits over people. The greed of the system is felt  throughout our community. Through the workers," said Nancy Robles, of the Party for Socialism & Liberation.

Fast food workers across the state called for the passage of Assembly Bill 257 – the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act, which goes before the Assembly in January. If passed it would set a state minimum wage of $15 an hour and create a Fast Food Sector Council. It’s 11 members would establish industry-wide minimum standards for wage, working hours, and working conditions.

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"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inequality of our system," said State Assemblymember Ash Kalra. Added San Jose State University strategic management professor Dr. Robert Chapman Wood, "Having a minimum wage actually might insure people get paid what they’re worth."

Some experts said increasing wages can bring greater power, but there could be an unintended cost.

"If it’s a state minimum wage it could be a problem not on the coasts, but in poorer parts of California," said Wood.

Managers at the Burger King in Campbell said they already pay $15.50 an hour to keep in line with fast food wages in neighboring San Jose.

They said Garcia Anavisca was the only worker to step on the other side of their glass doors and join the demonstration.

KTVU received a statement from McDonald’s corporation that read in part: "McDonald’s franchisees take pride in directly engaging with their crew…to provide locally relevant benefits and programs…Measures in AB257 would disrupt this successful model, creating unnecessary obstacles..."

Executives at Jack in the Box also sent a statement that said the company is communicating with franchisees and investigating complaints to address the issues with its employees.

The demonstrators promised to return and strike again, as the vote on AB 257 draws closer.