California fast food workers now earn $20 per hour. Franchisees are responding by cutting hours.

LOS ANGELES — Lawrence Cheng, whose family owns seven Wendy’s locations south of Los Angeles, took orders at the register on a recent day and emptied steaming hot baskets of French fries and chicken nuggets, salting them with a flourish.

Cheng used to have nearly a dozen employees on the afternoon shift at his Fountain Valley location in Orange County. Now he only schedules seven for each shift as he scrambles to absorb a dramatic jump in labor costs after a new California law boosted the hourly wage for fast food workers on April 1 from $16 to $20 an hour.

“We kind of just cut where we can,” he said. “I schedule one less person, and then I come in for that time that I didn’t schedule and I work that hour.”

Cheng hopes the summer when business is traditionally brisk with students out of school and families traveling or spending more time eating out will bring a better profit that can cover the added costs.

Experts say it’s still too early to tell the long-term impact of the wage hike on fast food restaurants and whether there will be widespread layoffs and closures. Past wage increases have not necessarily led to job

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