Nearly 30 McDonald's employees in stores across 19 cities have filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that allege the fast food giant creates a hazardous working environment that has led to widespread burns and other injuries to employees.
Organized by the Fight for $15 Campaign to increase employee wages and improve working conditions for fast food employees, the complaints could culminate in a class-action lawsuit against McDonald's if an OSHA investigation and the Department of Labor finds widespread wrongdoing.
The announcement of the complaints Monday was accompanied by results of a survey of fast food workers, which highlighted some pretty grim findings on the state of employee safety at fast food restaurants across the U.S. The survey, conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of worker safety nonprofit the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, found that 78% of fast food industry workers have been burned on the job in the last year, and that 58% have been burned multiple times in the same time frame.
At McDonald's stores in particular, the survey findings and worker complaints allege burns and other injuries at McDonald's were due to pressure by management to work faster than is safe for employees, and insufficient numbers of employees scheduled during a shift to handle the workload, as well as broken or damaged equipment in the workplace. Moreover, managers at McDonald's are alleged to have told employees to treat their burns with a food condiment, such as mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup, in order to quickly get back on the job.
"Fast food workers are like everyone else, they come to work to earn a living and to provide for their families," said Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, on a press call about the OSHA complaints and survey findings. "They don't come to work to get injured, they don't come to work to get burned, and they certainly don't come to work to be handed a packet of mayonnaise or mustard when they do get burned."
The Council and Fight for $15 are also calling on the Department of Labor to investigate, but in the meantime, OSHA will have 10 days to investigate and, depending on its findings, the employees will then have six months to file a class-action lawsuit.
In response, a McDonald's representative told BuzzFeed News that the company will look into the matters.
"McDonald's and its independent franchisees are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald's brand U.S. restaurants," the representative said. "We will review these allegations. 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 Fight for 15 campaign is backed by the Service Employees International Union and assisted by BerlinRosen, a public relations firm that lists Bill de Blasio's election as Mayor of New York as one of its success stories. Amid a flurry of nationwide organizing among fast food workers and others, McDonald's has taken a procession of negative hits, including protests in front of its restaurants, and the publication of embarrassing content from an internal advice website for employees, which the company subsequently took down. The site's advice for the company's low-wage workers included guidelines on how much to tip a pool cleaner, and recommendations to avoid eating too much fast food.
But the organizing drive has also been reflected in lawsuits that could cause real problems for the company. A complaint about civil rights violations by McDonald's franchisees has attracted the support of the National Labor Relations Board, and could establish a game-changing precedent that the burger giant can be considered a "joint employer" of the workers hired by its franchise owners. A spokesperson for the International Franchise association described the complaint as the "nightmare before Christmas" in a call with reporters last December.