LOS ANGELES (KNX) — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, fast food workers remain at a higher risk of contracting the virus than others in the workforce, according to a new study by the UCLA Labor Center published Tuesday.
The study concerned the nearly 150,000 restaurant workers in the fast-food sector in Los Angeles, and found that they generally do not receive workplace protections to which they are legally entitled despite being classified as frontline workers for the duration of the pandemic.
Nearly 25% of fast food workers contracted COVID-19 in the last 18 months, according to the study, and less than half were notified by employers that they had been exposed to the virus.
"More than half of workers felt that employers didn't address their needs after they spoke up, and some even faced retaliation for doing so," Tia Koonse, report author and Legal and Policy Research Manager at the UCLA Labor Center, said in a statement. "COVID-19 safety protocols like paid sick leave reduce the incidence of frontline food service employees working while they are sick, but these measures have been insufficient in this sector. Only 47% of fast-food workers received paid sick leave when they or their coworkers contracted the virus."
Study authors also found that violations of workplace safety and health standards at fast food restaurants have worsened over the last two years. Almost two-thirds of workers in the sector said they had faced health and safety hazards on the job.
"Fast-food workers have showed up every day of the COVID-19 pandemic, risking our lives to keep our stores open and our communities fed," Los Angeles McDonald's worker Angelica Hernandez said in a statement. "The companies we work for have called us essential, but this report shows they think we're disposable and that they've decided keeping us in unsafe and unsanitary conditions is worth it for higher corporate profits.”
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, in responding to the study, criticized fast food companies for treating workers as “dispensable” during the pandemic. “I remain fully committed to lifting the voices of those often overlooked,” she said. “The safety of our communities depends on it."
The report is based on 417 surveys and 15 interviews with workers, and expanded on an industry analysis conducted earlier this year on fast-food restaurant labor conditions.