Fast food corporations have come under increased scrutiny under the coronavirus pandemic—and not a moment too soon, according to members of Fight For $15 and a Union, a movement advocating for higher wages.
Although a wage hike tends to be the primary concern for Fight For $15, it currently has an equally important battle on its hands: the fight for safe working conditions.
The nationwide campaign has hit home locally, as the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors recently approved a plan to investigate complaints of unsafe working conditions and whistleblower retaliation in fast-food restaurants.
Santa Clara County becomes just the second in California behind Los Angeles—to investigate fast food workers’ claims, according to Fight For $15.
Under the proposal approved last week, County Counsel will work with the District Attorney’s office and report back to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 15.
Fight For $15 believes corporations are prioritizing profit over the health of workers.
San Jose resident Maria Ruiz said she was fired from the San Jose McDonald’s at 2040 N. First St. in July after organizing a wildcat strike in March to protest what she said was a glaring lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) available for employees.
In a Nov. 17 letter to the BOS, Alynn Umel, the national organizing director of the Fight For $15 and a Union, shared the story of a Milpitas Jack in the Box worker who reported in a complaint that she was fired after following doctor’s order to quarantine after she was exposed to Covid-19 and was exhibiting the virus’ symptoms.
It’s no secret that fast food kitchens are crowded and fast-paced, with small work areas and frequently shared equipment. That makes it a prime place to contract and spread the virus. Fight For $15 and a Union claims fast food eateries have failed to provide employees with proper PPE, hazard pay and paid sick leave.
On the same day the BOS approved the referral, Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), who chairs the Committee on Labor and Employment, held an informational hearing with state agencies and frontline workers to discuss the need for improved workplace health and safety protections during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The data is clear: millions of Californians are facing alarmingly unsafe working conditions during this pandemic,” Kalra said in a prepared statement. “The safety of California’s workers, especially those on the front lines, must be our top priority. While the state has issued industry guidance, conducted targeted on-site inspections, and provided employer training, it is not enough. We must approach our health and safety policy through a lens of empowering workers. Our workers must know their rights and how to assert them if their workplace is unsafe due to Covid-19. They should be able to file a complaint without fear of retaliation.”