California $20 Fast-Food Minimum Wage Is Coming April 1

The ambitious law, which supporters hope to see replicated nationwide, has been characterized by opposing sides in stark terms. To backers, it is a step toward fair compensation for low-wage workers who faced significant risk during the pandemic. To opponents, it is a cataclysmic move that will raise food prices, lead to job losses and force some franchisees to consider closing.

“People don’t understand that when wages rise, so do the prices,” Mr. Bynum said.

Mr. Bynum has, in recent years, raised prices to try to maintain profit margins — and each time, he said, he has noticed a drop in customers. That, in turn, forced painful decisions about cutting staffing and trimming hours.

The new minimum wage will add $3,000 to $4,000 to his monthly expenses, he said, and while he hopes to keep all eight of his employees, he doesn’t know if he can make the numbers add up.

One employee, Josue Reyes, has worked at the restaurant on and off over the past decade.

He works the evening shift, often taking the bus and then riding his hybrid bike the rest of the way to the restaurant. Mr. Reyes, 35, said the consistent pay raises through the years — he now makes $16 an hour — had helped him significantly. He puts much of his paycheck toward assisting his mother pay the rent at their trailer park and tries to save where he can.

While another pay increase will help him, Mr. Reyes, who has worked in fast food for much of his life, said he feared that before long, jobs would become more competitive and harder to keep.