Gavin Newsom picks California fast food council members after facing Panera exemption backlash

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday night released his appointments to a state fast food council that will help decide workplace standards starting this month.

The governor made the quiet announcement after receiving backlash for a bakery restaurant exemption that appeared to exclude Panera Bread from the council’s policies and a new $20-per-hour minimum wage requirement.

Bloomberg on Wednesday reported that apparent carve-out — which applies to restaurants that produce and sell bread as a standalone menu item — may have ended up in Assembly bills 257 and 1228 because of Newsom’s relationship with Panera franchisee Greg Flynn.

Newsom’s office on Thursday denied the exemption applies to Panera and called stories about Newsom and Flynn’s connection “absurd.”

Newsom signed AB 257 in 2022 to create the fast food council. His office in 2023 was involved in brokering a compromise between labor leaders and fast food companies that resulted in the higher minimum wage, which takes effect April 1.

AB 1228 was originally meant to hold corporate and franchise owners jointly liable for workplace abuses. But advocates dropped that provision after companies agreed to the new minimum wage and removed a ballot measure meant to repeal AB 257. Newsom signed the revised version of AB 1228 in September.

The fast food council will develop standards around issues such as wages, working conditions and training. It will have nine voting members and must convene for its first meeting by March 15. The council will exist as a part of the Department of Industrial Relations until 2029, unless the Legislature takes action to renew it. State labor agencies and the California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower, a Newsom appointee, will also weigh in on the council’s decisions and how they are implemented.

Two members of the council will represent the fast food industry, two will represent franchisees or restaurant owners, two will represent employees and two will represent worker advocates. One additional member will be unaffiliated with labor groups or the restaurant industry.

Newsom is responsible for appointing the restaurant employees, franchisees, industry leaders and the unaffiliated member. Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, and the Senate Rules Committee each pick one worker advocate.

Rivas in December selected Maria Maldonado, deputy field director for Service Employees International Union’s fast food workers union, according to the speaker’s office. SEIU was a key player in advocating for both AB 257 and AB 1228.

The Senate Rules Committee in January appointed Joseph Bryant, SEIU international executive vice president, according to the office of President Pro Tem Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

Here are Newsom’s seven appointees:

Nicholas Hardeman of Sacramento will serve as the member unaffiliated with the fast food industry or labor groups. He has served as chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, since 2016.

S.G. Ellison of Sonoma has worked as CEO and franchisee of Diversified Restaurant Group since 2019. The Walnut Creek company owns more than 300 stores across the Taco Bell and Arby’s brands.

Richard Reinis of Los Angeles has been a partner at law firm Thompson Coburn LLP since 2014 and was previously a major Krispy Kreme Doughnuts franchise owner.

Angelica Hernandez of Paramount has been a cook trainer at McDonald’s since 2012.

Anneisha Williams of Los Angeles has been a shift leader at Jack in the Box since 2021 and is a member of the California Fast Food Workers Union.

Michaela Mendelsohn of Los Angeles has been president and CEO of El Pollo Loco franchisee Pollo West Corp. since 1988. The Agoura Hills company operates six stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Piardip “Joe” Johal of Pleasanton has been CEO of Wendy’s of the Pacific since 2002. The Modesto-based company operates Wendy’s locations across the Central Valley.