McDonald’s employees in Oakland, Calif., allege in a complaint filed Thursday that managers provided coffee filters and dog diapers for them to use as face masks early on in the coronavirus pandemic.
The employees said in their filing with the Alameda County Public Health Department that five employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and have spread it to members of their family. The number rose to six employees by mid-morning, Eater San Francisco reported.
The complaint signed by 23 employees alleges that “almost all of the workers” at McDonald's “have been exposed” to the virus and requests that “immediate action” be taken to “protect” them, their families and customers.
The employees say the managers “provided masks made out of doggie diapers or coffee filters.” Later, they said disposable masks were provided, but workers said they were instructed to use them for multiple days or until they stopped working.
The workers asserted that both managers and workers at the location “have been working sick” since at least May 14 “with clear COVID-19 symptoms.” They say managers knew workers had tested positive since at least May 22.
“Throughout that time, managers have been telling even those employees with symptoms to come to work with no extra precautions,” the complaint said. “Managers and workers have been at work with fevers, coughing, sneezing and flu-like aches and pains. Some tried to stay home but were told they could not.”
“By having employees work sick, even after knowing about the positive tests, McDonald’s has knowingly exposed countless individuals to the virus, including other workers, their families, customers, delivery drivers and anyone else these people have had contact with,” the complaint added. “People could die because McDonald’s has us work sick, just to sell burgers.”
The workers at the Oakland location have been on strike since Tuesday, requesting a two-week paid quarantine period, company-paid medical costs and appropriate personal protective equipment.
Michael Smith, the owner and operator of the McDonald’s location, said in a written statement that the allegations that employees were told to wear coffee filters and dog diapers as masks are “entirely false.” He said the organization "personally funded and provided" 3,000 masks and 500 gloves to the 375 employees.
The owner also said "rigorous handwashing procedures," social distancing and wellness and temperature checks at the beginning of each shift have been implemented in the restaurant.
Smith said the location was closed for a "deep cleaning" after three of its employees tested positive and expects to reopen in a few days "when we can safely staff the restaurant."
“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,” Smith said in the statement.
He added that McDonald's has given “nearly $20,000 worth of grocery gift cards” to employees during the pandemic that will be available in their next paychecks.
McDonald’s employees in 20 cities went on strike last week to request the company implement further protections during the pandemic, Fox News reported Wednesday.
Updated: 9 p.m.