This afternoon in Tampa, approximately 70 fast-food workers, many McDonalds employees, and their allies held a demonstration protesting health hazards that they say they’ve incurred on the job.
It’s the latest effort by activists behind the “Fight for $15” campaign to get fast-food workers a higher wage and the right to join a union, primarily funded by the Service Employees International Union.
Blue Reiner works at the McDonalds at Fletcher Avenue and 22nd Street in Tampa. He says he has plenty of burns up and down his arm from working at McDonalds. “These companies don’t have gloves, they don’t have Band-Aids. When you get cut, they don’t have the burn cream when you get burned. They tell you to wrap a napkin around your finger when you get cut,” he said.
“I’ve been injured,” said Laura Roberts, 66, who came up from Miami to participate in the protest. “When you get burned, they tell you to put some mustard on it and then just go back to your daily routine. No kind of report. They don’t do nothing,” she complained. She’s worked there for five years, and currently makes $8.45 an hour.
Rod Livingston, 27, worked at a Taco Bell on 34th St. in South St. Petersburg. He says he’s never been injured, but has seen colleagues who have been, both at Taco Bell and at McDonalds, where he is also now working. He also said that when an employee gets burned from popping grease, there’s never anyone documenting the injury. “There’s no type of concern in the workplace whatsoever,” he said.
The emphasis on worker safety is the latest escalation of the war on fast-food establishments organized by the labor movement. Such workers generally make little more than minimum wage and often not that many hours.
Helen Henderson has worked at a Wendy’s franchise at Fowler and 56th Street for the past year. She says that everyone deserves $15 an hour or better, which has been the dominant aspect of the fast-food worker movement. “I really, really believe the Fight for $15, because it’s a good thing to do.” Henderson is single with no children, but she’s currently on work break because of a recent operation. But she says making $8 an hour is hard.
“It’s something we deserve. We deserve a living wage,” says Blue Rainer. “Everyone deserves a living wage. It’s not just fast-food workers. It’s not just retail workers. We have professor adjuncts with us, we have home healthcare workers and child-care workers with us, so that right there in itself tells you that everyone deserves a living wage. And evidently we’re not getting it right now, so we’re going to fight back until we get it back.”
Sixty-six-year-old Laura Roberts says her time “is about up,” when it comes to working, but she says she feels emboldened if she can help make a change and “make it better for my kids and grandkids.”
The protesters gathered at a Taco Bell on Busch Blvd. in north Tampa, and ultimately marched to a McDonalds several blocks to the east.
“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,” spokesperson Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem told Florida Politics. “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.”
A spokesman for the Labor Department told The Associated Press that complaints about conditions at fast-food establishments have been filed with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in recent weeks. She says the agency does not discuss ongoing investigations.