OTHERS SAY: Californians knead answers

Even before Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the landmark law that would increase the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 per hour starting in April, there were some eyebrows raised over the so-called Panera exemption.

The law was designed to boost pay and improve working conditions for employees of fast-food chain restaurants, but it contained an oddly specific carve-out: It wouldn't apply to restaurants that bake and sell bread as a stand-alone item on the menu.

Now, Bloomberg reports that Newsom pushed behind the scenes for the exemption, which will benefit billionaire Greg Flynn, a campaign donor and business associate who owns two dozen Panera Bread locations in the state.

Flynn runs one of the world's largest restaurant franchise operations and was a vocal opponent of the law, which sets a fast-food worker wage and creates a Fast Food Council that would hike pay in future years and develop labor, health and safety standards for the covered restaurants.

Flynn, who attended the same high school as Newsom, contributed $160,000 combined to the governor's 2021 anti-recall campaign and his 2022 re-election. That's a lot of dough.

When questioned about the bread exemption last year, Newsom dismissed it as "part of the sausage-making" of politics. On Thursday, amid rising outrage, Newsom's office put out a statement calling the Bloomberg story "absurd" and suggesting Panera is not exempt from the law because it mixes the dough at an off-site location and only bakes and sells the bread at the restaurant.

OK, but we're going to need some proof. Because the carve-out for bakeries has been reported numerous times using Panera as the example of a restaurant that would benefit from the exemption. The governor's office has yet to explain publicly why the bakery exemption was even warranted.

Newsom and legislative leaders need to explain themselves. This sounds exactly like the kind of legislative shenanigans that undermine public confidence.

It's difficult to imagine how this could be justified. How does it make sense that, if a restaurant bakes bread for sandwiches, its workers deserve $20 an hour, but if it sells it as a loaf, its workers don't?

If you were thinking, well, why doesn't McDonald's just start selling the McBaguette in California to avoid the law? The exemption applies only to restaurants that operate on-site bakeries as of Sept. 15, 2023.

This idea is so crumby it could have risen only in Sacramento.

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