A new front in the war for workers’ rights opened up Monday as McDonald’s employees and the Fight for $15 campaign filed 28 health and safety complaints in 19 cities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state agencies alleging unsafe working conditions and inadequate training.
The complaints include claims from one McDonald’s worker in New Orleans who was burned while filtering grease and another from a worker in Philadelphia who was also badly burned while reaching for a cookie tray.
McDonald’s officials dismissed the claims as a public relations strategy orchestrated by activists hoping to damage the corporation’s brand.
The workers allege that understaffing and pressure to work faster, along with a lack of protective gear and sufficient training, led to their injuries. “One of my co-workers and I have to empty the grease trap without protective gear,” Martisse Campbell, a worker at a McDonald’s in Philadelphia, said in a statement.
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The complaints allege many McDonald’s franchises lack an accessible and properly stocked first aid kit. One coworker was badly burned on the job and was allegedly told by a manager to “put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good,” Campbell said.
OSHA complaints were also filed against McDonald’s locations in Kansas City, New York, New Orleans, and elsewhere.
“In our first meeting, there were 50 workers in a room in New York City who held up their arms covered in burns and said, ‘This is what it means to be a fast-food worker,’” Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fight for $15, said in a statement following the filing of the complaints. “As this campaign has spread to cities across the country, it’s become painfully clear that unsafe conditions go hand-in-hand with the industry’s low wages.”
McDonald’s, in a statement following the OSHA complaints, said its franchisees “are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s brand U.S. restaurants.”
“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,” the statement concluded.
Seventy-nine percent of fast-food workers have been burned on the job in the last year, according to a recent survey of fast-food workers released by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker safety advocacy group.
The Department of Labor (DoL) also issued a report this month highlighting the link between workplace injuries for low-income workers and an increased difficulty for those workers to climb out of poverty.
“Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20 percent) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation,” the DoL report states.
By comparison, low-wage workers and their families carry about 50 percent of those costs in the form of out-of-pocket medical and related expenses. The rest is spread between federal, state, and local governments, as well as private insurers.
The Fight for $15 organization has filed hundreds of claims against McDonald’s with the National Labor Relations Board, which resulted in a decision last year from the NLRB that McDonald’s was a joint-employer with its franchisees. The decision, the first of its kind, is the first step in holding McDonald’s corporate liable for the unlawful actions of its franchise owners.
McDonald’s also faces claims of wage theft against its employees as well as claims that workers at franchises in Virginia were subjected to “rampant” racial and sex discrimination.
McDonald’s sets minimal health and safety standards for all its franchisees, but has consistently failed to enforce them, according to the OSHA complaints. The complaints also note that employees suffer similar injuries and complain of similar unsafe working conditions in both McDonald’s that are corporate-owned and those that are owned by franchisees.
“It’s a problem that only McDonald’s can fix,” Fells said.