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Hundreds of McDonald's workers went on strike Wednesday over unsafe working conditions. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images)

"They Don't Care for Our Lives": McDonald's Workers Strike Across US to Demand Better Protections From Covid-19

Organizers say scores of McDonalds workers have tested positive for Covid-19 in at least 16 states, but the company often doesn't notify employees when their coworkers are sick. 

Julia Conley

Demanding McDonald's prioritize public health and worker safety over profits, hundreds of employees at the fast food chain went on strike Wednesday, a day before the company was set to hold its annual shareholders' meeting.

Instead of distributing dividends to its shareholders, the striking employees are calling for the company to use its massive profits to pay for safety and financial protections for workers, scores of whom have contracted Covid-19 in at least 16 states so far. 

Employees and strike organizers at the fair wage advocacy group Fight for $15 are demanding hazard pay during the pandemic of "$15X2," paid sick leave, sufficient protective gear for workers, and company-wide policy of closing a restaurant for two weeks when an employee becomes infected, with workers being fully paid.

The strike is taking place at stores in at least 20 cities. Fight for $15 and the SEIU, which is also supporting the action, say it's the first nationwide coordinated effort targeting the company since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. 

On social media, Fight for $15 posted videos of workers explaining why they are walking off the job Wednesday. 

Longtime McDonald's cook Bartolome Perez plans to join Wednesday's strike after having his hours reduced when he spoke up about working conditions during the pandemic.

"They only care for their profits," Perez told USA Today. "They don't care for our lives. They show it to us again and again."

The workers went on strike as 25 labor rights and racial justice groups launched a campaign to demand federal legislation protecting workers from employer retaliation.

"Workers being able to speak out is key for a healthy democracy and safe society," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, which is leading the campaign. "Workers are our first line of defense against corruption, abuse, and an essential part of fighting COVID-19. They must feel safe in alerting the public about dangerous threats as they appear. Congress must act now."

The strike comes five weeks after the SEIU released a survey of about 800 McDonald's workers, 46% of whom reported coming to work sick out of fear that they would be penalized if they stayed home. More than 90% of workers said their stores did not supply sufficient face masks. 

McDonald's claimed this week that the SEIU's survey is now outdated and that the company is "putting safety first" as it moves to fully reopen many of the indoor dining rooms at its 140,000 U.S. restaurants. 

But on Tuesday, a day before the strike, McDonald's workers in Chicago filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the company is still not providing enough hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks for workers. 

The suit demands that an Illinois judge issue an injunction to bar McDonald's from forcing workers to reuse masks and require the company to notify employees when a worker tests positive for Covid-19.

"I don't think there would be strikes happening on 20 cities all on the same day if this was not a widely experienced condition of all workers in fast-food restaurants," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told USA Today in response to McDonalds' denials.


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