In the Golden State, the looming specter of a $20-an-hour minimum wage has sent shockwaves through the fast-food industry, triggering waves of layoffs and reduced hours for workers as businesses scramble to stay afloat.

Scheduled to kick in on April 1, the California state law promises a significant bump in hourly wages for fast-food employees. However, the unintended consequences are already being felt across the state.

Reports have surfaced of California eateries, predominantly pizza establishments, strategically downsizing their workforce in anticipation of the wage mandate. According to documents unearthed by The Wall Street Journal, iconic chains like Pizza Hut and Round Table Pizza are making tough decisions to mitigate the impending financial strain.

Take the case of Michael Ojeda, an eight-year veteran delivery driver for Pizza Hut in Ontario, Calif. He received a jolting notice in December, courtesy of Pizza Hut franchisee Southern California Pizza, informing him of his imminent departure in February. Despite the offer of a $400 severance package to see him through to the wage hike, Ojeda opted for unemployment, lamenting the abrupt loss of a career that had sustained him, his mother, and his partner for nearly a decade.

Southern California Pizza, operating a whopping 224 Pizza Hut locations in the greater Los Angeles area, is not alone in its preemptive measures. Across San Jose, business owners like Brian Hom, proprietor of Vitality Bowls, are resorting to staffing cuts and price increases to cushion the blow of rising labor costs. Hom, faced with the inevitability of higher wages, has opted to operate with a leaner workforce, albeit at the expense of customer wait times and increased menu prices.

Moreover, major players like McDonald’s and Chipotle are bracing for the financial impact by announcing menu price hikes, further burdening consumers in the state.

The situation has sparked controversy, particularly with the revelation that Panera Bread secured an exemption from the wage increase. Critics argue that this exemption, reportedly orchestrated through political connections and campaign donations, unfairly benefits certain individuals and corporations while leaving others to grapple with the fallout.

As the April 1 deadline looms closer, the debate over minimum wage policies in California intensifies, with stakeholders on both sides of the aisle weighing in on the economic ramifications and the implications for workers and businesses alike.

In a state known for its progressive policies, the unintended consequences of aggressive wage mandates serve as a cautionary tale, underscoring the delicate balance between economic prosperity and regulatory intervention. As businesses navigate the turbulent waters ahead, the fate of California’s fast-food industry hangs in the balance, with workers and consumers alike anxiously awaiting the fallout of this unprecedented wage experiment.