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Activists joined workers at a McDonald’s in Boyle Heights last week demanding management to return jobs back to four employees after they went on a strike over lack of safety and security at a store during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lizzet Aguilar, 35, one of the strikers, said when the pandemic hit, the McDonald’s where she works, located at 1716 Marengo Street, was not safe. She learned of two female employees who tested positive for COVID-19 were still working there. When it was brought to the attention of management they said they were not informed about it.
Aguilar said that in the drive thru area, she had very close contact with one of the infected workers but fortunately she did not get infected.
Afraid that she could take the virus home and transmit it to her 5-year-old son or her husband, Aguilar, and three other colleagues, decided to go on strike at the end of July.
“When we found out about the second [worker infected] I thought I shouldn’t be working there,” Aguilar said.
So far, at least five employees at the Boyle Heights store have tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition to asking for their jobs back, whistleblower employees are demanding greater transparency about possible exposure to COVID-19 at work, deep cleaning of stores where cases have been confirmed, and that McDonald’s add a sign at all drive-thru stores urging customers to wear skins.
Aguilar said that when the pandemic began, management did not provide workers with any protection such as masks.
“The manager told us that whether customers wore a mask or not, we had to serve them,” Aguilar said. “The store didn’t care about our health.”
When it came to “deep cleaning” the store did not hire specialized personnel but instead had the store workers cleaning.
“Meanwhile they brought in employees from other stores to replace them. It is very sad to see that they do not care about the health of the employees, ”Aguilar said.
During the protest, held on Sept. 10th, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who represents Boyle Heights, said it is clear that the neighborhoods of communities of color are the most impacted by the virus.
He added that residents in areas like the ones he represents, mostly Latino and immigrants, are often forced to work, not for pleasure but because they have payments to make and no economic help.
“They have to buy groceries to put on the table so your children can eat,” said the assemblyman. “And it is unimaginable that multinational corporations would come to our neighborhoods just to make a profit.”
Santiago expressed that it is the obligation of these large companies like McDonald’s to make sure that both their workers and the neighborhoods they serve are protected.
“I think that sometimes companies forget about that … If you are infected, your customers are going to be much worse because they are going to be infected,” he explained.
The workers said they will not be intimidated by management and will continue to protest until their jobs are returned.
Representatives of the group “Fight for $ 15 and a Union” said that so far management has refused to reestablish hours for striking workers neither has communicated with them to come to an agreement.
The store also continues to ignore workers’ demands to add a sign at the drive-thru telling customers to wear masks.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Aguilar has filed multiple complaints with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health alleging a wide range of health and safety violations at her store, including the fact that customers are still being served with or without masks, the lack of adequate personal protection for employees and the lack of social distancing and sanitation of high contact surfaces.
The Boyle Heights McDonald’s franchise denied all allegations, stating they have closed its dining room and they do require all customers picking up orders to wear a mask.
“We’ve also installed protective barriers at the counter and drive thru, in addition to adhering to social distancing guidelines and enhanced hygiene procedures,” said R&B Sánchez DBA McDonald’s franchisee.
Additionally, the franchise ensured that employees receive gloves and masks daily as well as doing temperature checks. If any employee is infected they are immediately sent home for a 14-day quarantine and the entire store is properly cleaned”.
“To further ensure the safety of our employees and customers, we are conducting thorough sanitization procedures on a nightly basis as well as sanitizing and disinfecting high touch point areas in the restaurant throughout the day.”
It is estimated that the county’s fast food restaurants serve an estimated 2.5 million customers daily and employ 166,000 workers in 7,500 locations, making these restaurants high-risk locations.
For this reason, fast food workers across Los Angeles County are demanding that the Board of Supervisors adopt legislation that specifically addresses the fast food COVID-19 crisis.
Jacqueline Garcia is a reporter with La Opinión. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.