McDonald’s is getting ready to go back to life as usual. In a guide released to franchisees this month, the corporation outlined recommendations and requirements for re-opening thousands of dining rooms. The soda fountains might stay closed, at least for a while. Customers will have to stay six feet apart. Employees must have masks and gloves and even use face shields if local government requires it, The Wall Street Journal reported. “We have a responsibility to get this right, and sometimes doing the right thing takes time,” a spokesperson for the company told the Journal.
But cooks and cashiers present a vastly different view of the company’s motivations. Far from doing the right thing, they argue, the chain has endangered them for weeks in order to keep drive-throughs, takeout, and a handful of dining rooms open. On Wednesday, workers in 20 cities went on strike, the largest undertaken by McDonald’s workers in the pandemic era to date. They say they still don’t have enough protective gear, that they sometimes face retaliation from managers when they do ask for more masks or gloves, and that the absence of universal paid sick leave hampers the chain’s ability to halt infection in stores. Some workers have fallen ill, and others worry about taking the virus home.
The problems appear widespread. In an April survey produced by the Service Employees International Union, 92 percent of McDonald’s workers who participated said they had no or limited access to masks. Another 46 percent reported similar issues with gloves, and 41 percent indicated that they did not have enough hand sanitizer available. Over one in five said they had come to work despite feeling ill, and of that number, 55 percent blamed a lack of paid sick leave for the pressure to keep working.
McDonald’s announced later the same month that it had secured masks for workers and that it would make more hand sanitizer available in stores. In practice, though, those measures were likely insufficient. The company now faces a class action lawsuit in Cook County, Illinois, after five workers and their relatives said it hadn’t done enough to prevent the spread of infection. According to the suit, managers in one Chicago location “arbitrarily limited” supplies of protective gear and hand sanitizer by locking them away. When workers asked for the products, managers accused workers “of being wasteful or trying to steal them.” When a worker at another Chicago location tested positive for COVID-19, managers allegedly did not tell other workers. Chicago workers also filed OSHA complaints against McDonald’s and staged a walkout in April.
Further legal action may be imminent. Workers in Los Angeles filed notices with the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and Cal/OSHA that signal their intention to sue if the company doesn’t address their complaints within 33 days.
On Wednesday’s digital picket line, workers sounded exhausted. They spoke of colleagues on ventilators and demanded hazard pay from McDonald’s. “As you see me and listen to me, I’m a human just like you,” said Fran Marion, who works for a Kansas City franchise. “I may not be a doctor or a paramedic, but I’m working on the front lines just like them, and I’m human just like them. We deserve PPE, hazard pay, health care, and $15.”
“I just deserve to be treated like a human,” she added, “and that’s why I’m going on strike.”
This piece has been updated to correct the name of a quoted worker.