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McDonald's High Tolerance for Inequity, Injustice & Racism

Thursday, June 11, 2020
By: Anuradha Mittal
Faith and community leaders held silhouettes of striking workers, unable to attend due Covid-19.
Image: June 5, 2020 faith and community leaders spaced 6 ft. apart held silhouettes of striking workers, unable to attend due to sickness or quarantine. Photo: Brooke Anderson.


As demands for justice for the innocent dead — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and more, rock the soul of the country, corporate America has joined the calls for action to confront racial inequalities in the United States.

McDonald’s is one of them.

“We stand for victims of systemic oppression and violence and with Black communities across America. We do not tolerate inequity, injustice, or racism,” reads the company’s statement on its homepage.


4514 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609 map


These hollow words are a shocking insult to its many employees — victims of inequity and exploitation at the hands of the corporation. Amidst a global pandemic, McDonald’s with its estimated net worth of $163 billion, has failed to provide the basic protective gear to keep its workers safe. 33 cooks and cashiers, mainly Latino including 24 women, at its Telegraph Avenue location in Oakland are on a strike for this reason.

“My name is Angeli Rodriguez…

I tested positive for Covid -19 while working at this location. Like all my co-workers, I need to work and support my family in Honduras. We are on strike not because we don’t want to work, but because we are demanding safe working conditions.

We deserve to work in a safe place. We must make our employer aware that the conditions in this store are forcing workers to risk our lives and the lives of our families. 11 workers here have tested positive for Covid-19. All of these struggles could have been prevented if McDonald’s acted immediately to improve labor conditions in the store and followed health and safety guidelines that would allow us to work at no risk.

Now we are in our houses [i]n quarantine , some of us because we tested positive, some of us because [we]were exposed. We are called essential workers but we haven’t been treated like it.

Big companies like Mcdonald’s make a lot of money selling food but they don't want to invest on us, their employees, we demand fair treatment, and we demand they bring workers to the table and listen to us.

Until today the owner of this franchise has ignored our demands, we have been asking as least twice to meet with us. He didn't close the store when he had to, that's why 33 of us joined the strike.

Muchas Gracias!”

Angeli Rodriguez, McDonalds striking worker, June 5, 2020

The strike began when four workers got sick from COVID –19 due to lack of any health and safety measures. The employees were reportedly told to use a dog diaper or coffee filter as a mask while at work, instead of being provided personal protective equipment (PPE). Two weeks later, eleven workers and six family members (including a 10-month old baby) had tested positive. Today all the workers are in quarantine.

According to Delia Vargas, another striking worker, “McDonald's is treating us like dogs. We don't want to die for their hamburgers so we are going on strike, to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities.” Like thousands of Americans participating in the Movement for Black Lives, Fight for 15 and faith and community-based allies of the striking workers have joined the workers to re-iterate the basic humanity of the essential workers at the McDonald’s.

Faith and community leaders holding signs at the June 5, 2020 protest outside of the McDonalds in Oakland, California.
Image: Faith and community leaders holding signs at the June 5, 2020 protest outside of the McDonalds in Oakland, California in support of workers striking for better working conditions.


Since the workers walked out on May 26th, this has become the longest running McDonald’s shut down by a strike. Following faith and community leaders action on June 5th — 33 people spaced 6 ft. apart, each holding a silhouette of a striking worker, unable to attend due to sickness or quarantine — Michael Smith, the franchise owner, agreed to meet with the workers on June 10th, after refusing to meet or consider their demands.

However, on that day, he refused to meet with the 10+ workers who came to present their demands, accompanied by community and faith folks, as well as Dan Kalb, Oakland City Council member. Smith, instead, has announced plans to reopen the store on Friday June 12th. This blatant disregard for basic human rights and dignity of the workers (see workers demands below) clearly contradicts McDonald’s lofty words of “We do not tolerate inequity, injustice, or racism.”

A nationwide online survey of 843 McDonald’s workers between March 31 and April 6, 2020 by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), reported that two thirds of the surveyed workers would not have liked to work at McDonald’s during the pandemic, but one in five reported coming to work despite feeling sick during the COVID crisis. This has been attributed to a lack of sick leave, fear of penalization, and the sheer inability to take a day off despite feeling sick because they could not afford it.

As striking workers and allies protest outside the store at 10 AM (PT) on Friday, June 12, it is important that all who have galvanized for racial equity and justice, deliver a clear message to McDonald’s: McDonald’s workers cannot be forced to endanger their lives for hamburgers; We will no longer tolerate corporations profiteering at the expense of the working poor; and that the struggle of immigrant workers for basic rights is a struggle for racial justice and equity.


  • PAID 14 DAY QUARANTINE FOR EXPOSED WORKERS, INCLUDING HOTEL COSTS TO PROTECT FAMILIES. Establish a corporate wide policy to require full 14-day quarantine, with full pay, for close-contact workers, which complies with the County Health Orders in Alameda County. The Orders require quarantining of close-contact workers. We need this protection, so that when the store reopens, we will not have to fear termination or loss of pay if we need to quarantine to protect others. Permit exposed close-contact workers to stay in a hotel to quarantine, apart from other members of their households, with costs to be covered by McDonald’s. (This is a public health matter and reopening should depend on McDonald’s accepting this condition. You should not allow the store to reopen if it means that our family members get sick from us).

  • TRACE IMPACTED WORKERS & FAMILIES. Take all necessary steps to perform thorough and professional contact tracing to ID all impacted workers and family members.

  • CLOSE & SANITIZE CONTAMINATED STORES. Keep the store closed until it is professionally sanitized and workers determine it is safe to return to work.

  • SICK PAY FOR EXPOSED WORKERS. Pay all workers who get sick to isolate until they are healthy, and until everyone they live with who has become sick as a result of this outbreak is also healthy.



  • COMPENSATE LOST HOURS DUE TO COVID CONCERNS. Any loss of regular working hours due to COVID or suspected COVID, including asking workers not to work because of concerns over the possibility that they may have COVID should be compensated without taking workers’ sick days.






Anuradha Mittal photo

Anuradha Mittal


Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, is an internationally renowned expert on development, human rights, and agriculture issues. Recipient of several awards, Anuradha Mittal was named the Most Valuable Thinker by the Nation magazine.

Frederic Mousseau photo

Frederic Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau is the Policy Director at the Oakland Institute where he coordinates the Institute’s research and advocacy activities on land investment, food security and agriculture. He has conducted numerous reviews and studies on food and agriculture and authored many reports and articles on these issues. Trained as an economist, Frederic has worked as a staff member and consultant for international relief agencies for nearly two decades, including Action Against Hunger, Doctors Without Borders, and Oxfam International.