A super-size pay raise is coming to fast food workers in California next year, as labor groups just pressured fast food franchises into a deal that would establish a $20 hourly minimum wage for crew at fast food restaurants.

The state of California does not actually have the highest hourly minimum wage in the country. That distinction would go to the state of Washington, whose $15.74 minimum wage slightly bests California's $15.50 (and the District of Columbia is even higher at $16.50 an hour).  

But California is likely to have the highest-paid fast food workers in the U.S. as of April 1, 2024. That’s because, as KPIX reports, a new compromise deal between labor groups and fast food franchises establishes a $20 minimum wage for fast food workers in California, effective in the spring of next year.

"A lot of us (in the fast-food industry) have to have two jobs to make ends meet, this will give us some breathing space," Bay Area Jack In The Box employee Ingrid Vilorio told KPIX.

This was not some grand act of generosity by the burger chains, but instead, a brass tacks back-and-forth between the chains and labor groups. Last year, Governor Newsom signed a law creating a Fast Food Council with the power to raise that industry’s minimum wage to as much as $22 an hour. But the industry countered by gathering signatures for a 2024 ballot measure that would have suspended the law until 2024, if not overturning it entirely at the ballot box.

Undaunted, labor groups countered by introducing legislation that would have made large companies like McDonald’s and Burger King liable for violations, like wage theft, committed by their individual franchise operators. That spooked the big fast food corporations to the bargaining table, resulting in the forthcoming $20 California fast food minimum wage.

"This agreement protects local restaurant owners from significant threats that would have made it difficult to continue to operate in California," National Restaurant Association executive vice president for public affairs Sean Kennedy told KPIX.

The law does not apply to all fast food joints in the state, only those with 60 or more locations nationwide. And it doesn’t apply to chains who actually produce their own bread on-site, or serve bread as a stand-alone item (e.g., Panera or Olive Garden).

Newsom’s Fast Food Council would have the ability to continue raising those hourly minimum wages each year through 2029.

Related: SF Burger King Employees Win $2.2 Million In Three-Year Old Wage Theft Case [SFist]

Image: Arielle A. via Yelp