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'Profits Over Our Safety': LA McDonald's Employees Intend To Sue Company For Mishandling Pandemic Response

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- As L.A. County targets July 4th as a benchmark date to reopen bars and restaurants, workers at two Los Angeles McDonald's stores filed notices Tuesday that they intend to sue the company for mishandling issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The workers allege that the way the company handled the pandemic put staff in "imminent danger."

The notices were filed with the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and Cal/OSHA and give the company 33 days to address alleged violations or workers can sue for civil penalties.

McDonald's said in a statement that the allegations against the company — which were also contained in a Service Employees International Union press release — were not accurate. The company said that it prioritizes the safety of its employees and has provided wellness checks and personal protective gear.

"Crew and managers are the heart and soul of the restaurants in which they work, and their safety and well-being is a top priority that guides our decision making," according to the company. "Since February, McDonald's USA has updated nearly 50 processes to keep restaurant employees and customers safe and has issued a 59-page guide outlining national standards restaurants must implement. These include wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social distancing guidelines for customers and crew, using gloves and masks, increasing the frequency of handwashing and moving to contactless operations."

The company added that PPE "is in ample supply for all restaurants; masks, gloves and protective barriers are required at all restaurants; (and) to date, more than 100 million masks have been distributed to crew."

Bartolome Perez, who filed one of the complaints against the company, said that since the beginning of the pandemic  "McDonald's has prioritized profits over our safety."

"When one of my co-workers tested positive, McDonald's put selling Big Macs ahead of our lives, failing to inform other workers they may have been exposed," he said. "We had to go on strike just to get the store to close for a deep cleaning."

In the L.A. McDonald's where Perez works, several employees tested positive for coronavirus in March and April. Others may have tested positive after this as well, according to the filing.

Perez alleges the company pressured its employees to continue working by not providing sick pay and other legally required benefits.

At another L.A. McDonald's store, the second notice alleges that one employee was permitted to work even though they exhibited COVID-19 symptoms and came in direct contact with other employees — several of whom later developed symptoms.

The first worker eventually tested positive, but the restaurant did not close, isolate employees, or provide paid leave, the complaint says.

"Frontline McDonald's workers are scared and angry," alleged Lauren Teukolsky, an attorney for the workers. "McDonald's is still not protecting them and Cal/OSHA is missing in action, even though these workers filed formal Cal/OSHA complaints more than a month ago.

"If the need to protect workers and customers from the scourge of COVID-19 isn't motivation enough for McDonald's, maybe the threat of massive civil penalties through legal action will be," she said. "McDonald's workers should not have to choose between their lives and a paycheck."

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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