Outside Tracy City Hall Thursday, amid a wave of red and yellow flags, fast-food workers in their McDonald’s uniforms and Fight for $15 t-shirts gathered on the steps chanting, “Villapudua you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.” We joined the workers, united in one goal: to meet with our representative, Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua at his advertised office hours. He was nowhere to be found.

Thursday’s rally marked the third public attempt by fast-food workers to gain an audience with the assemblyman who, in June, failed to vote in support of AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act. This legislation, which will return under reconsideration in January, would increase power and protections for more than 6,500 fast-food workers in AD 13 and across the state.

With more than 557,000 workers across more than 30,000 locations, California’s fast-food industry stands out as one of the largest, fastest growing low-wage workforces. It also stands out as one of the most diverse. Fast-food workers are nearly 80 percent people of color and more than 60 percent Latino. While other low-wage, high-violation industries have seen legislation aimed at reform, fast-food has not. The FAST Recovery Act would change this by giving workers a seat at the table to help improve their workplace conditions.

Without industry-specific protections, fast-food workers remian vulnerable to workplace violations such as wage theft, sexual harassment, violence in the workplace and other health and safety issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In January, researchers from UCSF found that line cooks had a 60 percent increase in mortality associated with the pandemic.

On the steps of City Hall on Thursday, DeShone Scrivens, a Stockton McDonald’s worker, detailed another pressing issue for workers: extreme heat. DeShone shared how kitchen temperatures recently exceeded 100 degrees.

Despite worker demands for repairs to the store’s cooling system, management has done nothing because, in DeShone’s words, “they only care about selling food, not our wellbeing.” His story mirrors the experiences of other workers throughout the region. Recently, area Jack in the Box workers reported being told they were “going through menopause” when they raised concerns about the extreme heat in their store.

Is this how we should be treating essential workers? Assemblyman Villapudua’s abstention from the June 3rd AB 257 vote, and his failure to meet with the workers, make us wonder where his priorities sit. Are they with the more than 6,500 fast-food workers who kept his constituents fed when restaurants shuttered at the height of the pandemic? Or, is he beholden to the corporate interests cutting checks in exchange for his silence?

We’ve heard him repeat industry lobbyist talking points about the bill. But here’s the truth: workers and businesses both win with AB 257.

This legislation would bring together key industry stakeholders: frontline workers, government agencies and fast-food franchisees and corporations that operate in our state. This group, known as the Fast-Food Sector Council, would work together to set minimum health and safety standards and democratize the traditional rulemaking process by ensuring both workers and business owners are heard. It also allows franchisees to tap their billion-dollar parent companies for additional resources to ensure they are running safe and compliant restaurants.

This bill would be good for employees, good for employers and better for California.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to take bold steps and model how states can revitalize their economies by empowering and protecting the essential workers who carried our communities through this crisis.

Coming out in support of AB 257 is an opportunity for Assemblyman Villapudua to take a stand for essential workers in his district. Since he won’t make the time to meet with his constituents in person to discuss this legislation, we hope we’ll reach him in the pages of this paper.

• Robin Cole is a member of the Democratic Club of Greater Tracy. Learn more about the group at https://greatertracydems.org/ or email info@greatertracydems.org.

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