Workers at an Oakland McDonald’s that made headlines for allegedly telling employees to make masks out of coffee filters and dog diapers have filed a complaint with the Alameda County Public Health Department, saying that six employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and have since spread it to other members of their family.
According to the complaint, which is embedded below, “almost all of the workers” at the McDonald’s at 4514 Telegraph Avenue “have been exposed” to COVID-19, “and we fear that there has been cross-contamination between our store and other McDonald’s locations in the city.”
Perhaps more troubling, the 23 workers who signed the complaint say that “managers and workers at this location have been working sick since at least Thursday, May 14, with clear Covid-19 symptoms,” and that “managers have been telling even those employees with symptoms to come to work with no extra precautions.” In addition, the complaint reads, “Some tried to stay home but were told they could not.”
By Tuesday, they say, four workers had tested positive. That number had ticked up to five when the complaint was filed early Thursday, and increased to six positive cases by mid-morning.
Since Tuesday, the workers named in the complaint have been on strike, a move that shut the restaurant down. The workers’ demands are fairly simple: a two-week paid quarantine period, company-paid medical costs, and proper personal protective equipment. “They provided disposable masks but said we needed to use them for multiple days, until they stopped working or fell apart,” the complaint reads.
“We try to wash our hands, but regular hand washing is not enforced. We try to sanitize, but no plan or protocol was put in place to ensure sanitization of high-touch surfaces after every use... There are as many as 11 people at one time in a small space. We move around a lot and are always in contact, always very close to each other.” (Eater SF has contacted the Alameda County Public Health Department to determine what steps will be taken regarding the complaint, but has yet to receive a response.)
Many of the claims in the complaint have been denied by Michael Smith, the owner and operator of the McDonald’s in question. In a written statement, he says that “We identified and reached out to all restaurant staff who had been in close contact with the employees who contracted the virus and advised they self-quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines,” and that “the claims of being asked to wear coffee filters and dog diapers are entirely false.” In fact, Smith says, he “personally funded and provided 3,000 masks and 500 gloves for our 375 employees in an effort to mitigate any risk of transmission in the restaurant.”
Though several employees claim in the complaint that they have been denied sick leave, and were instead told to file for unemployment, Smith says that “We are providing paid leave to employees who have been impacted by the virus,” and that he
Regarding In addition, he says that he is “providing nearly $20,000 worth of grocery gift cards to further aid [the McDonald’s] during this difficult time.” A spokesperson for the workers tells Eater SF, however, that workers at the McDonald’s say that they haven’t received any gift cards, “so as far as we can tell that’s a lie.” According to a McDonald’s spokesperson, the gift cards — each for $50 — were ordered this week, with the intention to distribute one to each employee with their next paycheck.
Updated May 28, 3:31 p.m., with additional comments from a McDonald’s spokesperson.