McDonald’s workers in 20 cities nationwide went on strike Wednesday, protesting against the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and demanding guaranteed paid sick leave, hazard pay and more.
Hundreds of employees of the fast-food giant — from Los Angeles to Detroit to Miami — participated in the strike, with some walking off the job and many simply not going into work, according to organizers with Fight for 15, a movement of fast-food workers fighting for better conditions.
Because social distancing measures prevented workers from picketing outside together, some joined a virtual video call to express their concerns and demands, with several saying they hadn’t been given adequate protective gear at work and the company hadn’t always notified workers when a coworker had tested positive for coronavirus.
“Since the pandemic started, folks have been quitting because they’re scared of getting sick,” Darnell Harris, a grill worker at a McDonald’s in Detroit, said on the video call. “But I have no choice, I keep going to work because I’m living check to check. I have college debt and medical bills.”
“McDonald’s must treat us like human beings, as front-line workers,” Harris added.
While McDonald’s has provided two weeks of paid sick leave and cash bonuses to workers in its company-run stores during 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.
McDonald’s told HuffPost in a statement Wednesday that its employees’ “safety and well-being is a top priority” and that it had issued a guide to franchises outlining “national standards” for the restaurants to implement amid the pandemic. The company said it was “confident” that “the vast majority” of its franchises were providing paid sick leave to employees.
On Tuesday, McDonald’s workers filed a lawsuit in Chicago and took legal actions in California against the company’s “inadequate” response to the pandemic. McDonald’s said that day that protective gear was “in ample supply,” adding that more than 100 million masks had been distributed nationwide.
Angelica Hernandez, another McDonald’s worker on Wednesday’s strike call, said one of her coworkers in her Los Angeles location got the virus and was hospitalized. Afterward, she and others were only given four days off to quarantine before having to return to work. She said the company hadn’t given them enough protective equipment: They ran out of sanitizer and gloves, and customers without masks have still been served.
“I don’t have my kids with me. I had to send them to live with my mother-in-law out of fear of getting the virus and spreading it to them,” Hernandez said. “On Mother’s Day, I was alone … because McDonald’s isn’t protecting us.”
Workers at a McDonald’s in San Francisco filed a complaint with the city’s health department alleging that managers suggested they use coffee filters as masks, according to a release from Fight for 15. And in Detroit, workers at a McDonald’s said they were given just one mask and told to clean it with hand sanitizer.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was on the call on Wednesday, noted that if workers aren’t able to stay home when they’re sick, they’ll potentially infect others at work, adding that paid leave is “crucial to combatting this virus.”
“This pandemic has laid bare just how shaky the ground is under working people,” the lawmaker said.
Fran Marion, a McDonald’s worker in Kansas City, Missouri, pointed out on the call that the coronavirus has disproportionately been killing Black, Latinx and Native American people. And Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in the service industry, including in restaurants and retail jobs.
“I am human just like you,” Marion said, adding that McDonald’s workers deserve protective gear and hazard pay. “I may not be a doctor or a paramedic, but I’m out here on the front lines just like them. … I deserve to be treated like a human — and that’s why I’m going on strike.”