Last month, workers at a Los Angeles McDonald’s went on strike to draw attention to unsafe working conditions and to demand basic personal protective equipment as they continued doing their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While McDonald’s has pledged to provide gloves and cleaning supplies and to implement social distancing in some restaurants, some workers said they still don’t have enough supplies to get through each day. They haven’t been able to get any masks. Gloves have to be reused from task to task, the workers said.
But don’t think that McDonald’s managers are giving short shrift to employees’ emotional well-being.
At the start of April, as the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketed across the country, management posted an upbeat calendar in at least two corporate-owned Los Angeles locations. Each day was themed, encouraging employees to participate in McDonald’s Trivia Game Day, Raffle Day and Candy Day or to wear their “favorite McDonald’s shirt.” April 29 is a designated Crazy Sock Day.
“This isn’t what we were looking for. It’s an insult and a slap in the face, honestly,” said Angelica Hernandez, who helped lead the March walkout.
The workers see the calendar as an attempt to “buy us with simple candy,” Hernandez said through a translator, so that employees would stop speaking out on unsafe conditions in the restaurant.
When reached for comment, a McDonald’s spokesman said the calendar had been created about five years previously. Hernandez said she had worked at her location for 15 years and never seen it before.
The company said that it was “proud to be open to serve the people who are working hard to help our country get through this crisis” and that “the well-being of customers and restaurant employees is our top priority.”
“This activity [an apparent reference to employee protests at several McDonald’s locations] is not representative of what we’re seeing across the country, where 99% of restaurants are open for Drive-Thru, Delivery and Take-away to serve healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines,” the spokesman said, adding that the company is “continuously making changes to operations informed by guidance from health authorities.”
McDonald’s also said it has not witnessed any break in its normal supply chain for gloves and cleaning supplies.
“When it comes to supplies as far as sanitizer or gloves or masks, it is a lie that there is enough,” Hernandez said.
The pandemic has been creating sudden shortages in basic protective supplies in hospitals and businesses across the country.
McDonald’s has promised to provide “non-medical grade masks to the areas of greatest need,” but it is unclear which locations will receive those masks. In an April 3 letter, McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger said employees would undergo a daily temperature check.
Erlinger concluded: “Please take care of yourself and your family as we work to take care of our McFamily too.”
Hernandez said her location has not yet implemented any such effort on temperature taking. And while the company’s official policy is to provide two weeks’ paid sick leave for employees affected by COVID-19 ― if they work at a company-owned location ― Hernandez said workers at her location had been told they had only three paid sick days.
McDonald’s franchises with more than 500 employees are not required to provide paid sick leave at all, per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed last month.
Employees have accused the fast food chain of putting profits before people for weeks, staging strikes or walkouts in multiple cities. In Tampa, Florida, workers walked out March 30 after being told not to wear gloves or masks because they might scare customers. In San Jose, California, workers protested earlier this week for personal protective equipment and hazard pay of an additional $3 per hour.
Workers at a different location in Los Angeles walked off the job Sunday and Monday after they were told an unidentified employee had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We’re terrified for ourselves and our families,” Bartolome Perez, who has worked for the McDonald’s on Crenshaw Boulevard for 30 years, said in a statement provided by the labor rights group Fight for $15.
“We’ve been pleading for protective equipment for more than a month now, but McDonald’s is putting its profits ahead of our health. We don’t want to die for McDonald’s burgers and fries,” Perez said.
Workers at the Crenshaw Boulevard location are demanding that they be allowed to quarantine themselves for two weeks in case they’ve contracted the virus from their co-worker. Perez and others filed a complaint on Monday with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health over their situation.
In response, the franchise owner defended herself, saying that the outlet was immediately closed for one day to be thoroughly cleaned after the employee tested positive.
“We are committed to paying both the infected employee and the other employees who need to quarantine,” owner Nicole Enearu told NBC News, adding that she believes the location has “an ample supply of gloves available to our employees.”