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McDonald’s, Starbucks and other fast-food workers strike across Florida, demanding more coronavirus protections

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 5/6/2020 By Chabeli Carrazana, Orlando Sentinel

At a Starbucks in Orlando, worker Sammy Corder said the company sent around a video explaining how to make a mask out of a coffee filter. Then, it provided masks so thin, “I could breathe Sweet N’ Low sugar through them,” Corder said.

“If I could do that, what else could get through the mask?”

At McDonald’s in Lakeland, Faith Booker said she’s been working next to a colleague who has been showing symptoms of coronavirus, but managers refused to send her home until last week.

“I have three kids with asthma, as well as myself,” said Booker, who also works a second job at Burger King. “I’m putting myself and my other coworkers at my second job in jeopardy.”

And Jamelia Fairley, a McDonald’s worker in Orlando, said the company told employees they “shouldn’t wear masks at work because it would scare customers away."

It’s why she, Booker, Corder and workers across 50 fast-food restaurants in Florida went on strike Wednesday, another in a series of demonstrations led by the Fight for $15 and a Union, a movement of low-wage workers that’s been fighting for a $15 minimum wage since 2012.

McDonalds and Starbucks did not respond to requests for comment about the statewide strike.

Workers, many of them McDonald’s employees in particular, have been protesting since March across the country for safer working conditions. In response, McDonald’s vowed to make “important changes” last month, ramping up cleanliness and safety standards and sending masks to the areas of greatest need.

Fairley and Booker, the local McDonald’s workers, said those changes haven’t come to fruition.

Fairley said that at one point, she and her colleagues "we were told to use a coffee filter and a hairnet to make a mask.”

At Starbucks, Corder said the company has provided $3 an hour hazard pay increase in addition to workers’ regular pay. Fight for $15 workers are demanding $30 an hour during the pandemic — $15 an hour times two.

They’re also hoping to raise support for the $15 minimum wage amendment championed by Orlando attorney John Morgan that will be on the ballot in Florida this November. Nationally, the pandemic has sparked more conversation about healthcare and paid sick leave, two safety nets that workers in low-wage jobs typically lack.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said on a call with Fight with $15 workers that the coronavirus pandemic has “only highlighted more and more the values that we have been fighting for and how critical they are.”

Soto said he’s been pushing for better protections for workers, including the sick pay measurers included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which gave full-time employees at small- and medium-sized companies two weeks of paid sick time for the rest of the year.

But the law left out companies with more than 500 employees because 90% of bigger companies already provide paid sick leave, Soto said. Still, only 20% of workers in the United States will be covered.

McDonald’s employees, for instance, aren’t covered. The company also doesn’t offer its own paid sick leave. McDonald’s added paid sick leave for workers who are required to quarantine for 14 days as a result of coronavirus at its corporate-run stores, less than 10% of all McDonald’s restaurants.

“I know there are some loopholes that we’ve pointed out, that we have to fix,” Soto said, “... so that every worker when they’re sick, they have the ability to stay home, to get well, or to care for their loved ones.”

Only 33% of leisure and hospitality workers — the industry that encompasses food workers — had access to paid sick leave in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 88% of public administration employees and 78% of workers in the finance industry.

Looking ahead, the phased reopening of the state on Monday has workers worried that some of the protections they’ve won during the pandemic may start to slip away.

Corder, the Starbucks employee, said that just recently, customers were allowed to eat in close proximity to the area where mobile orders are served at his Starbucks location. In the drive-through, workers process about 50 orders an hour.

“The lockdown may be ending, but the pandemic isn’t. Our lives are still at risk,” he said. “This has been a short-term solution to a long-term problem that workers have faced far before this pandemic."

Contact the reporter at ccarrazana@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5660; Twitter @ChabeliH

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©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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