McDonald’s workers complain of frequent burns, dangerous conditions

McDonald's workers have filed safety complaints with a regulatory board alleging frequent on-the-job injuries, lacking safety equipment, improper training, and pressure to work at unsafe speeds.The new complaints are part of a larger effort to hold McDonald’s legally culpable for the actions of its franchisees.

Alan Diaz/AP
People protest for higher wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in the Little Havana area of Miami. McDonald’s workers in 19 cities have filed complaints over burns from hot grills and fryers and other workplace hazards, according to labor organizers.

Protesting workers from McDonald’s and other major fast food chains lobbed new accusations of unsafe work conditions at their employers Monday, including frequent on-the-job injuries (especially grease burns), ineffective or unavailable safety equipment, improper training, and pressure from managers to work at unsafe speeds.

McDonald’s employees have filed 28 such complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA) against McDonald’s locations in 19 cities over the past two weeks. In many cases, they say, first aid was lackadaisical at best: In a conference call with reporters, Martisse Campbell, a Philadelphia employee, claimed one of his co-workers, badly burned by grease, was told by a manager to “put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good.” 

Other complaints included a widespread lack of safety gloves, burns from cleaning grills that were kept on during cleaning, slipping on wet floors, and a lack of training for working hot fryers and disposing of hot grease.

The problem, protesters say, isn’t limited to McDonald’s. Also released Monday, a survey of 1,426 fast food workers commissioned by National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (an advocacy group) found that 82 percent had been injured on the job in the past year. Among those, 79 percent suffered burns, many of them multiple times.

The allegations are the latest step in the “Fight for 15,” a now two-year-old protest movement advocating for higher wages and better treatment of the fast food industry’s workers. With organizing help from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the movement has already filed lawsuits alleging illegal payment practices against franchisees and made accusations of race-based firings and harassment.

The new complaints are part of a larger effort by the Fight for $15 to hold McDonald’s legally culpable for the actions of its franchisees. Ninety percent of McDonald’s locations are independently owned, and the fast food industry at large has long argued that the setup shields them from responsibility when franchisees break labor rules. Legally, for the most part, it still does. The OSHA complaints, for example, have to be filed against individual store locations.

But protesters argue that the company oversight is so thorough that it should be held legally accountable and, in this case, that safety protocols are handed down from the company itself. Nine of the 28 OSHA charges, too, were filed against corporate-owned stores.

“It’s become painfully clear that unsafe conditions go hand-in-hand with the industry’s low wages.” Fight for $15 organizing director Kendall Fells said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s a problem that only McDonald’s can fix, and the time to fix it is now.”

Whether or not McDonald’s is, in fact, responsible for complaints filed against individual locations is currently playing out in court. In July, counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a government labor watchdog, ruled that McDonald’s could be named as a “joint employer” on any lawsuits against its franchisees.

The restaurant industry has vowed to fight the ruling, calling it a threat to small businesses and job creation. The NLRB’s case goes to trial this month.

In response to Monday’s announcement, McDonald’s said it would review the allegations, and that its franchisees were committed to safe worker conditions. "It is important to note that these complaints are part of a larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage," Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement to the Monitor.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to McDonald’s workers complain of frequent burns, dangerous conditions
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today