Workers win at a McDonald’s that gave them dog diapers to use as face masks
Fight for 15 Facebook.

NORTH OAKLAND, Calif. —For the second time in a month, a group of McDonald’s workers—this time in North Oakland, Calif.—defeated the fast-food behemoth in court on the issue of not protecting them, or the public, against the coronavirus. At the McDonald’s here workers say that before they began their strike the company offered them dog diapers and coffee filters as their only protection against the coronavirus, putting both them and their customers at risk.

The difference between the win in California, on August 12, and at the McDonald’s at 2438 W. Cermak Road in Chicago at the end of July, is at least 25 workers in North Oakland’s YES McDonald’s franchise at 4514 Telegraph Ave. were forced to strike for 33 days. The Oakland workers had to strike after receiving a temporary injunction a year before ordering the firm to protect them. It didn’t.

The year before, 11 of the workers became ill from Covid-19, the official name for the coronavirus. So did family members, including a baby.

Chicago has seen infections increase from a daily average of 1,669 at the end of July to 3.448 on August 13, the latest state figures show.

But in the end, both groups of workers won orders mandating McDonald’s provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) and take other measures to guard them against the renewed infection.

The wins are particularly important for three reasons.

  • One is they again prove the point that workers united—even if they’re not unionized—can defeat a monster and malevolent employer.
  • A second is by doing so, they’re acting to save their own lives and health, at a time when the virus’s delta variant is causing rising infections from coast to coast. That includes Alameda County, Calif., (Oakland) where the number of people testing positive rose by 52.3% over the last two weeks, to 322.1 per day, California health officials reported.
  • And the third is the workers and their lawyers convinced the judges in both cases that a restaurant which doesn’t protect its workers also doesn’t protect its customers—and thus is “a public nuisance” endangering human health.

In the California case, the settlement between a group of McDonald’s workers and the company’s local franchise owner turned a temporary injunction against the local fast-food outlet exactly a year before into a permanent order.

There was no contact tracing, no physical distancing, little sanitation, no real PPE and bosses forced sick workers to come in anyway, endangering their colleagues and the public, the Oakland workers and their lawyers told judges there.

“Defendants’ failure to provide any mechanism for workers with Covid-19 to request to take paid sick leave violated and continues to violate the emergency public health leave laws the City of Oakland enacted prior to the events at issue here for the specific purposes of protecting its community by arresting the spread of Covid-19, protecting the health and safety of individuals who have contracted or may contract it, and reducing the enormous drain on public resources caused by virus-related hospitalizations,” they said in their original injunction request.

In the Oakland settlement, the boss didn’t admit wrongdoing, which flies in the face of comments by the workers to local media and Fight For $15, which came to their aid. But the boss agreed to a suite of corrective measures.

A McDonald’s in Oakland, California, settled a lawsuit after workers said they were given masks made from dog diapers and coffee filters for COVID-19 protection. Gene J. Puskar AP

They include a worker-dominated (three workers, one manager) safety committee to monitor conditions at the McDonald’s and blow the whistle if necessary, two weeks of paid sick leave for any worker who tests positive for Covid-19, required real PPE including masks and gloves, paid 30-minute breaks for handwashing, and required physical distancing and frequent deep cleaning. The safety committee is the first-ever at a McDonald’s.

“Last year when McDonald’s tried to treat us like dogs, we didn’t sit down or stay silent. We joined together and fought for our dignity as human beings—and we won,” one of the named workers in Oakland, Angely Lambert, told Fight For $15.

Even after the first injunction, and a temporary closure, the Oakland bosses refused to move. Instead, Fight for $15 says, they gave workers dog diapers and rubber bands and told them to use those to build masks. When they ran out of dog diapers, the bosses offered coffee filters. When the workers complained about both, they received reusable masks which quickly fell apart.

Hence the walkout—and the settlement agreement.

At the McDonald’s on Chicago’s Cermak Road, the workers didn’t have to walk. Instead, they got first a temporary injunction and then a permanent one, on August 3 from Cook County Judge Reilly.

They created enough flak without a strike that McDonald’s pledged to follow Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s state orders on physical distancing and protective masking.

Court papers show the Cermak Road McDonald’s workers wanted the firm to “require defendants to provide workers with an adequate supply of face coverings and gloves, supply hand sanitizer for workers and customers,” and require workers and customers to wear face masks.

They also demanded McDonald’s “monitor infections among workers” and tell workers immediately if a colleague has Covid-19 symptoms or is infected, and give workers “training on proper hand-washing and other preventive measures” the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.