Study shows LA fast food workers at higher risk of contracting COVID-19

Last week, UCLA published a study which examined fast food workers in Los Angeles, showing how fast food workers often experience harsh working conditions and ultimately are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to labor violations.

LA fast food workers number around 150,000 and are mostly women and minorities. These employees are also responsible for enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, while working in close proximity to each other, especially cookswho have the highest COVID-19 death rate among restaurant workers.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, working conditions have put a strain on this workforce. UCLA Fast Food Frontline: COVID-19 and Working Conditions in Los Angeles study includes these highlights:

  • Almost 25% of fast food workers have contracted COVID-19 in the last eighteen months, while less than 50% have been notified by their employer after exposure. Less than half were granted paid sick leave if they or a colleague contracted the virus.
  • During the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of workers have been victims of wage theft.
  • Regarding wage theft, 45% of fast food workers bought a uniform or equipment without being reimbursed, 12% received late paychecks and 23% reported interrupted meal breaks while 13% reported denied meal or rest breaks. For those who worked overtime, 55% was not paid at time and a half, which is required by federal and state law.
  • More than 50% of workers were exposed to occupational health and safety hazards, resulting in 43% of workplace injuries, from hot oil burns to cuts and injuries after lifting and/or carrying objects at work.
  • Restaurant workers are required by the city and state to wear PPE/personal protective equipment, but half of workers surveyed said the number of masks or gloves provided by the employer was insufficient or infrequent . Nearly 40% bought their own masks or gloves, while more than 10% had to buy their own supplies, but couldn’t afford them.
  • After restaurants in Los Angeles County required customers to wear face coverings to enter, the study noted that most did not. More than 50% of employees experienced hostility when interacting with customers or restaurant colleagues about safety protocols, including being attacked, threatened or shouted at.

The UCLA study was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. In October 2020, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to investigate the health and safety conditions of fast food workers in Los Angeles County, after a McDonald’s in Boyle Heights alleged that management failed to comply with basic COVID-19 protocols and retaliated against workers who complained.

The study made recommendations to address these issues with fast food workers by enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, providing fast food workers with protection from retaliation and abuse, as well as improving occupational safety and health practices. LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis commented on the study in an emailed statement. “Many of these workers have been treated as if they are not essential. Ensuring worker protection is essential to ensure that the most vulnerable and underrepresented members of the community are safe and healthy. With another outbreak of COVID-19 beginning in Los Angeles County, attributed to the Omicron variant, this report is of utmost importance.

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