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2020 Referendums Backed by Big Money Deliver Victory and Loss for Food Industry

In 2020 election referendums, voters approved two milestone initiatives that amount to a win and loss for food-industry companies in two states.

California workers with app-based ride-hailing and delivery services will remain independent contractors after voters approved Proposition 22, reported Miami Herald (Nov. 4).The ballot question, which had more than 58% of nearly 11 million counts voted as of early Nov. 4, overrides lawmakers who sought to make the workers employees. More than $225 million was spent on the initiative mostly by the gig companies, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart.

The stakes were high in California, as the landmark state labor law known as AB5 threatened to upend the app-based business model. San Francisco-based Uber and Lyft had threatened to pull out of California if they lost. Proposition 22 exempts the companies from the labor law to keep drivers independent contractors not required to receive overtime, sick leave and expense reimbursement. The measure puts in place policies that require those companies to provide “alternative benefits,” including a guaranteed minimum wage and subsidies for health insurance if drivers average 25 hours of work per week.

Food worker wages were also on the ballot in Florida, where over 61% of voters approved a state constitutional amendment to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, reported The Washington Post (Nov. 4). The minimum wage increases will scale up to $15 by 2026, up from $8.56 per hour currently. Florida joins seven other states in the process of raising their minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Florida’s ballot win was a moment of success for labor and minimum wage advocates in the Fight for $15, an advocacy movement focused on getting corporate chains to lift wages to $15 per hour. The effort is backed by unions, labor advocates and Democrats. However, in Florida, the ballot initiative was due in large part to the backing of John Morgan, a lawyer and businessman in the Orlando area. Morgan spent more than $5 million of his own money on the effort.

Florida business and industry groups, as well as Republicans, came out strongly against the initiative, arguing it would hurt business already struggling during the pandemic.

“I’m going to have to increase prices,” said John Horne, the owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, a restaurant group with 260 employees. Horne also sits on the executive board of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “And when I increase prices, I’ll lose cover accounts. And I won’t need all the employees. I’m concerned they’re going to lose hours.”

However, Scott Fuhrman, the owner of Lakewood Organic, a juice company in Miami that employs 100 people, said he supported the measure. He increased hourly wages at his company to $15 a couple of years ago and noticed a change with his workers, including immediate reduction in errors and turnover.

Meanwhile, both sides of the labor debate, wage seekers and food companies, arguably got a win in New Jersey, as voters approved recreational marijuana via a constitutional amendment in a referendum, reported NJ.com (updated Nov. 4). Approximately 67% of the state’s voters approved the measure, according to a tally taken at 5 a.m. on Nov. 4.

New Jersey must take certain actions before public dispensaries can sell to the public recreationally, however. State lawmakers must still pass a bill governing the rules and regulations of the industry. Governor Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin must also name appointees to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will oversee the industry. The enabling legislation could be introduced as soon as Nov. 6.

The state’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries could begin selling to the public immediately after the bill becomes law, provided they have enough inventory to satisfy patient needs first.