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.