McDonald's Workers Go After Company For Failing To Protect Them During Coronavirus

Workers in Chicago and L.A. claim the fast-food giant didn’t provide adequate protection and workers weren’t told when staff tested positive for COVID-19.

McDonald’s workers filed a lawsuit in Chicago, took legal actions in California and are planning strikes nationwide, all in response to the company’s alleged failure to protect workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County, Illinois, five McDonald’s workers claim the company’s response to the pandemic has been “plainly inadequate,” saying the company did not provide enough gear, including gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, to protect workers from the spread of COVID-19. The company also failed to notify employees after a co-worker tested positive, according to the suit.

“McDonald’s says that we’re essential workers, but it’s not treating us that way,” plaintiff Taynarvis Massey, who has an 11-year-old son with asthma, said in a news release from the Fight for 15 fast-food workers movement. “Since McDonald’s hasn’t shown it can protect us, we are suing to make sure the company prioritizes our lives over burgers and fries.”

The lawsuit focuses on four McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago, including franchise and corporate-run shops, claiming the plaintiffs often work in close contact with colleagues in kitchens and are regularly exposed to the public at drive-thrus and to-go service areas, which have remained open during the pandemic.

At one store, workers said the company has not provided hand sanitizer and gave out masks and gloves only after workers went on strike — and even then, they were given only one mask to wear repeatedly. At another store, managers allegedly didn’t tell workers when one of the plaintiffs tested positive for COVID-19 — with one co-worker telling the plaintiff she learned of it through Facebook. At one store, managers told workers they didn’t need to keep distant if they kept encounters to less than 10 minutes.

McDonald’s responded in a statement that its employees’ “safety and well-being is a top priority.” The company said protective gear was “in ample supply for all restaurants,” adding that more than 100 million masks had been distributed nationwide.

As states begin to reopen nonessential businesses and activities, McDonald’s has been preparing to reopen dining areas, sending guidance last week to its franchises on how to do so, including recommending more frequent cleaning of bathrooms and practicing social distancing.

While McDonald’s has provided two weeks of paid sick leave and cash bonuses to workers in its company-run stores amid the pandemic, it does not guarantee such leave and benefits to workers at its independently owned franchises — which make up over 90% of its thousands of locations nationwide.

“The damage done by McDonald’s decisions is not confined to the walls of its restaurants, but instead has broader public health consequences for the Chicago community... and the entire country,” the suit says.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with more than 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 91,000 dead so far. Chicago’s Cook County has the most coronavirus cases of any county nationwide, with over 63,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,800 dead as of Tuesday.

In California, McDonald’s workers at three stores in Los Angeles and San Jose also filed legal actions on Tuesday, giving the company 33 days to respond to complaints they filed with the state’s Occupational Safety and Health division (Cal/OSHA) on the company’s response to COVID-19 or workers can sue.

In one Los Angeles franchise store, several workers were infected with the virus and McDonald’s did not inform all employees at the location, according to the complaint. Managers closed and deep-cleaned the store only after workers went on strike, one employee said.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, McDonald’s has prioritized profits over our safety,” Bartolome Perez, a Los Angeles McDonald’s worker and leader with the Fight for 15 movement, said in a release. “McDonald’s put selling Big Macs ahead of our lives.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of McDonald’s workers in over a dozen cities plan to strike Wednesday — including in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Houston — to demonstrate against the fast-food giant’s response to the pandemic.

Since March, when the coronavirus’s spread led to broad economic shutdowns across the U.S., millions of Americans have largely stayed home while workers deemed “essential” have continued to go to work. Some of these workers have gone on strikes — including employees at Amazon warehouses, Whole Foods grocery stores and Instacart delivery services — claiming the major companies haven’t been doing enough to keep them safe while they work through a public health emergency.

“Frontline McDonald’s workers are scared and angry,” Lauren Teukolsky, an attorney for the California McDonald’s workers, said in a release. “McDonald’s workers should not have to choose between their lives and a paycheck.”

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