California fast food workers form statewide union

Fast food workers in California are forming a union with a unique structure. And, it comes at a time when big chains are taking a hard look at wages and menu pricing for the coming year.

Historic: that's how organizers describe the inaugural gathering of the California Fast Food Workers Union. Comprised of cooks and cashiers statewide, the union is the first of its kind in the nation.

Ramona Martinez of San Jose was at the meeting in LA. She's been a cook at Carl's Junior for 17 years and spoke with us through a translator.

"It was very exciting to see the room full of other fast food workers who are ready to start this union with me," says Martinez.

The union comes at a time when fast food wages and pricing are top of mind in California. 

A $20-dollar minimum wage takes effect in April. And a backlash to meal price increases has caused viral anger online.

Alexander Dean is still reeling over a recent McDonald's purchase.

"It was like $45 or $50 for two meals, and one of them was a kids' meal," Dean says. "And it's not just McDonald's. every restaurant is skyrocketing. It's ridiculous."

This week, McDonald's CEO acknowledged customers' frustration, saying it translated to a disappointing fourth quarter, and lower spending by customers who earn $45,000 a year or less. He said the company will now shift its focus to affordability.

"It's been like draining me, like easily 20-bucks each time for one thing you know. I just find it a little insulting because people work really hard for their money," says customer Sabrina McCormick.

"I'm worried. I'm absolutely worried about how much money will I have left by the summertime," adds Jennifer Ashford, who buys fast food for her family nearly every day.

Customers say something needs to change, or they'll just start eating at home.

"People, I notice, are starting to pack more lunches from home now," says customer, Tim Flores.

But as the industry makes adjustments, workers hope the union will protect their interests. Ramona Martinez says she spent the day learning about her rights.

"I'm very happy and excited for what the future holds for us fast food workers, who united, will be able to move forward with everything that we need in our jobs. And this is just day one," she says.

The union, which will be part of SEIU is a non-traditional one. They will have a formal structure, benefits and dues, but they will be missing some protection of federal labor laws.