McDonald’s workers in 19 U.S. cities are asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect their workplaces, alleging they’ve been injured because of a lack of training and protective equipment.
The complaints are the latest in a number of legal actions against McDonald’s as labor groups try to force it to improve working conditions and raise wages. The campaign’s goal is to form a union.
The complaints against McDonald’s, which is based outside Chicago, were announced Monday during a telephone news conference by the Fight for $15 campaign, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union.
Scott Allen, an OSHA spokesman, said the agency is investigating some McDonald’s in several states. “We do investigate all complaints and take every complaint seriously,” Allen said.
In a statement, McDonald’s said its franchisees “are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s brand U.S. restaurants. 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.”
Fight for $15 said 28 complaints against McDonald’s and its franchisees have been submitted since March 2. Nine complaints were against corporate-owned restaurants and 19 against locations run by franchisees.
Complaints include one from a New Orleans worker who cited lack of training and equipment for burns suffered while filtering grease, according to documents provided by the campaign. The campaign also alleges that a Philadelphia worker who was badly burned when reaching for a cookie tray was told by a manager to use mayonnaise to treat the burn.
Workers said understaffing and pressure to work faster resulted in injuries. Those injuries, they added, were not properly treated.
One of the two workers who spoke about their injuries during Monday’s call was Brittney Berry of Chicago. Berry said she was rushing, slipped on a greasy floor and caught her arm on a hot grill, which led to a “devastating” injury.
“The burn almost burned my entire forearm,” said Berry, adding that she fell and twisted her wrist, leading to nerve damage. “Rather than help me with medical treatment, my manager told me to put mustard on my arm. That’s it.”
Berry previously was among a group of people arrested during a Chicago protest with Fight for $15.
OSHA received more than 9,500 complaints in 2013 and conducted more than 39,000 inspections that year, according to the latest data available on its site. If an inspector determines a violation has occurred, a company could face fines of up to $70,000 for each violation.
The Fight for $15 labor group has also filed hundreds of claims against McDonald’s with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the company violated labor rights of its employees at various restaurants nationwide. More than 100 were found to have merit. In December, the board’s general counsel said McDonald’s was a joint employer with its franchisees.
Hearings before an NLRB administrative law judge are set to begin at the end of the month in New York. Additional hearings are expected in Chicago and Los Angeles. If settlements aren’t reached, McDonald’s and its franchisees could be required to pay back wages and reinstate fired workers.
McDonald’s has said it will contest the joint-employer designation and the unfair-labor-practice charges. The company has long maintained that franchisees are independent owner-operators who set their own policies and wages while adhering to corporate standards on food preparation and restaurant design.
Martin Malin, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law who specializes in labor law, said the joint-employer designation from the NLRB’s general counsel doesn’t carry over to the worker injury claims. OSHA could determine on its own whether McDonald’s shares responsibility for possible health and safety violations at its franchisees’ stores, he said.
Additionally, McDonald’s faces several lawsuits alleging that it is stealing wages by failing to pay overtime and forcing employees to work off the clock.
McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant company, is working to reverse several months of disappointing sales, including weak results in the United States.
The company said in its annual report issued last month that actions such as campaigns by labor organizations “could adversely affect” McDonald’s or its franchisees.