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McDonald’s Accused of Firing Worker Over Strikes for Safety Gear

July 22, 2020, 5:19 PM

McDonald’s Corp. was accused of firing an employee who led strikes over a lack of critical safety equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, an allegation the chain denies.

The Service Employees International Union said the burger giant illegally retaliated against the worker, Maria Ruiz, because of her workplace activism, according to a complaint it filed Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board. The union also says Ruiz learned from a co-worker that management “has compiled a blacklist of union supporters” at the restaurant in San Jose, California, who it calls trouble-makers and who it “intends to fire.”

McDonald’s said via email that the claims “are untrue and cannot be substantiated.” Instead, the company said the employee was terminated because she falsely reported an unrelated safety violation, fabricated evidence and lied during the investigation.

As the pandemic has swept across the U.S., it has spurred a wave of protest walkouts and legal complaints by so-called essential workers who claim their companies have put them at needless risk. Some of that activism has been followed by alleged retaliatory terminations, such as Amazon’s firing of the leader of a New York warehouse strike. Amazon has denied retaliating.

Federal labor law restricts companies from threatening or retaliating against employees for collective action related to workplace conditions.

Essential Workers

Ruiz led a series of walkouts beginning in April calling on McDonald’s to provide safety items such as masks and soap at work, she said in an interview. “McDonald’s said that we were essential workers, but then we had to go on strike for them to provide us proper protective equipment.”

Ruiz, a 16-year employee, said she hadn’t noticed any friction with her employer until she got involved with SEIU’s “Fight for $15” campaign, after which she said her hours started getting cut. SEIU, whose campaign pushes to hike pay and win unionization at companies like McDonald’s, said in its complaint that Ruiz was ultimately fired “for her advocacy for workers’ safety” and her organizing efforts, not the reason offered by the company.

Ruiz also denied McDonald’s assertions about why she was fired.

The complaint comes about a month after the union accused McDonald’s of firing another worker at a franchised location in Chicago because he participated in a strike and joined a lawsuit over safety. In response to that filing, the company said at the time that it has policies against retaliation and provided a statement from the new franchise owner saying that his organization followed the “normal hiring process” in deciding which workers to retain.

--With assistance from Ed Ludlow.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Josh Eidelson in San Francisco at jeidelson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Weston Kosova at wkosova@bloomberg.net

Richard Clough, Anne Riley Moffat

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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