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California Fast Food Workers Protest Over Safety, Pay During COVID-19 Pandemic

HAYWARD (KPIX) -- Restaurant workers took to picket lines Thursday in a statewide effort to draw attention to the lack of personal protective equipment -- or PPE -- at fast food establishments.

About a half dozen cars honked horns and circled the McDonald's on Watkins Street in Hayward and, later, at the McDonald's on Stobridge Avenue in Castro Valley, Thursday morning. Similar protests took place at fast food establishments in Southern California.

In order to observe social distancing guidelines, the protesters remained in their vehicles, with poster boards attached to the outside reading "Worker Health is Public Health", "No Gloves, No Masks, On Strike Now!"

The demonstrations were part of an effort to highlight the risk workers at essential businesses like fast food restaurants face on a daily basis and to pressure employers to provide PPE to employees.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), said employers are not required to provide PPE to their workers.

"Little by little, as you're seeing with the governor, we're slowly moving sector by sector to ensure our essential workers are protected," said Kalra.

The rollout of PPE from employers to frontline workers has been inconsistent and uneven during the pandemic and shelter-in-place order. In the past week, plastic shields and gloves are now commonplace among workers at grocery stores, big box stores and restaurants.

Masks, however, are still in short supply. Employees at the Target on Whipple Road in Hayward wore homemade DIY masks. A Target employee told KPIX more formal paper masks for their workforce are on order and should arrive this week. But at the Walmart next door on Whipple Road, employees appeared to have been issued masks.

Kalra also said lawmakers are currently crafting legislation to address sick pay and protection from retaliation for sick calls.

"I don't know if you want someone making your burger and fries that's not feeling well but has to come to work because they'll be fired if they don't. So the legislation would allow for workers to take time off to get sick pay and to recover properly," said Kalra, "At the end of the day, whether it's the fast food restaurants or some of the retailers that are making a killing right now, like Walmart and Target, what have you, they're never going to give any more than they have to."

One of Thursday morning's protesters, Jeramy Car, an employee at Jiffy Lube in Castro Valley, pointed to a black cloth tied around his neck being used as protection against the coronavirus.

"This is what they gave us for protection, napkins," said Car, "Gotta keep us safe and healthy out here in this pandemic time. But if the companies ain't doing what they gotta do to keep us healthy, why they put it on us to come to work?"

In e-mail to KPIX, McDonald's USA spokesperson Rainey Lindsay wrote "Our supply chain team is working tirelessly to secure critical supplies, such as non-medical grade masks."

"We are disappointed by today's activities as they do not represent the feedback we are hearing from the majority of employees across the country where 99 percent of our drive-throughs are open to serve the health care heroes on the frontlines," Lindsay said.

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