AB 257 Passes!
In 2019, Maria Bernal was a single mother, paid minimum wage for eight hours even when she worked 16-hour double shifts. She lived in a small Kia with her three-year-old and 15-year-old sons because she did not make enough money to afford housing. In addition to not being paid for break times and overtime, she experienced verbal abuse at work. After living in her car for six months, she was finally able to rent a cheap motel room for the three of them to sleep in.
“It was a filthy motel room infested with cockroaches, but it's all I could afford at the time. The turning point for me came when my three-year-old son complained of pain in his neck, kept scratching it, and could not sleep at night. Finally, one day I took him to the doctor for a check-up. There, I learned my son had been bitten by bedbugs at night and had some going up and down his neck during the check-up. At that moment, I felt like I was a failure as a mother. I was working 16 hours a day, and yet I could not afford proper housing to raise my children.”
In the midst of this despair and shame, Maria found hope in her power. Here’s how she explains it:
“That's when I thought to myself, enough is enough and I decided to join the Fight for 15 and the fight to pass AB 257. ”
Fast food workers are nearly 80 percent people of color and more than 60 percent Latino/Latina; 25 percent of them are the main income earners in their families.
According to Anneisha Williams, a worker at Jack in the Box, it comes down to a simple, fundamental demand:
“We shouldn’t have to struggle so much. We want to be treated like we’re actually human beings.
The pandemic made clear that corporations lacked commitment to their employees: they ignored their safety concerns, failed to provide proper protective equipment, and when workers protested, they retaliated against them.
Instead of being silenced, workers grew stronger by standing together. Maria Yolanda Torres, a worker at Subway, explained why she joined the movement to have a voice at work:
“We are essential workers but not treated like that. With the Fast Recovery Act, we’ll be heard. We’ll sit down at the same table with franchises and say if there is a law protecting workers, it has to be followed and applied.”
With the passage of AB 257, California became a model for economic prosperity rooted in economic justice by protecting and empowering workers in the fast food industry.
AB 257 is a groundbreaking law with transformative implications for workers, but there is still a long way to go for workers across California and the country.
But if anyone can do it, it will be the new heroes of the labor movement: Maria Bernal, Anneisha Williams, Maria Yolanda Torres, and thousands of others who have renewed and reinvigorated the demand for workers to have a seat at the table.