Maria Ruiz is the sole breadwinner for a household that includes her two daughters—one of whom is pregnant—along with two of her grandkids.
But the 46-year-old was fired from a San Jose McDonald’s on Tuesday for lying about using an incorrect coffee pot—a charge Ruiz flat-out denies.
After all, Ruiz had worked at that particular McDonald’s location on 2040 N. First St. for 16 years, and she said she wouldn’t make such a rookie mistake.
A group of approximately 30 people—including a couple of employees—went on strike Wednesday to protest the firing of Ruiz, saying it was retaliation for her activism.
“The real reason I got fired was because I’ve been doing the strikes,” Ruiz said through interpreter Francisco Dominguez.
Ruiz was one of the lead organizers for a wildcat strike in late March to protest what she said was a glaring lack of Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] McDonald’s was allegedly refusing to supply to its employees.
Ruiz said she was fired because an internal investigation revealed she had lied about using an aluminum container to make coffee, one used as common practice. “I had been notified not to use it, and once they told me, I never used it again,” she said. “They can look at the video and it’ll show I didn’t use it. I would know better not to use something if they told me not to use it, so that’s why this seems peculiar I was let go for this reason.”
San Jose Inside reached out to an HR manager at the McDonald’s Corporation, but he deferred all questions to its main headquarters.
McDonald’s wouldn’t speak in detail on the record, only releasing a statement that said: “The claims named in this charge are untrue and cannot be substantiated. The employee was terminated after a thorough review found that she falsely reported a safety violation, created and provided false evidence, and lied during the investigation.”
Ruiz led a group of her former co-workers to join Monday’s nationwide Strike for Black Lives, a protest organized by various union and social justice groups in an effort to support initiatives to increase minimum wage and dismantle racism.
A day later, she was fired. One of the major union groups involved in the strikes, SEIU, has a Fight for $15 campaign that pushes for a $15 minimum wage rate and to unionize workers at eateries like McDonald’s and Chipotle.
Ana Martinez has been working at the North First Street McDonald’s for three years, and she’s afraid her job is in jeopardy since she has participated in the strikes.
Neither Ruiz nor Martinez noticed any friction with management until they got involved in the protests and strikes. Martinez said her hours have been slashed from 40 hours a week to 15 to 20, and the increased scrutiny has added undue stress to her life.
“Since we’ve been doing the strikes, they [management] are making us work faster and trying to get us to do more than we normally would be doing,” Martinez said through Dominguez. “We’re under extreme pressure now.”
Despite the pressure she feels from management, Martinez participated in the protest on Wednesday in support of solidarity for Ruiz. “We felt like we needed to take action because Maria was fired for striking,” Martinez said.
Both Ruiz and Martinez said McDonald’s only started to provide PPE for the workers after the initial strike in late March. However, even when the burger giant provided PPE, supplies ran out, according to Ruiz and Martinez.
“So we’d run out of sanitizer or masks during our work shifts,” Ruiz said.
Many see hypocrisy when fast food giants like McDonald’s—or any corporation in general—put out statements in regards to equity and social justice but do little to actually address those matters in a tangible way.
“Companies like McDonald’s cannot on the one hand tweet that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and on the other pay us poverty wages and fail to provide sick days and adequate PPE," Angely Rodriguez Lambert, a McDonald's worker in Oakland, and leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union, said in a statement.
Despite getting fired, Ruiz said she would like her job back, noting her concern of becoming homeless with no financial means to support her family of five. Despite the current predicament she finds herself in, Ruiz said she would not change a thing.
“If I had a chance to go back in time, I would not change anything,” she said. “This was right for us to strike because McDonald’s was not providing necessary equipment for us to take care of ourselves in the work environment. There was no reason for me to be terminated for making my voice known to have a safe work place. I felt it was absolutely necessary to speak up because the workers have a right to have protective equipment.”