May 20 (UPI) -- Hundreds of McDonald's workers plan to strike on Wednesday, saying the fast-food chain has provided inadequate protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers in a number of cities are set to take part in the strike organized by the minimum-wage labor campaign "Fight for $15" and supported by the Service Employees International Union ahead of the company's annual shareholders meeting
"This is about choices," union President Mary Kay Henry said. "McDonald's can do the right thing and protect its workers. It is choosing not to."
Organizers say McDonald's workers in at least 16 states have contracted COVID-19. They cite a survey in which 42 percent of a sample of 800 workers said they were told by management not to wear gloves or face coverings and 46 percent said they reported to work despite feeling ill out of fear of discipline.
"We are aware of scores of cases of COVID-19-positive workers in at least 16 states across the country. Time and time again, McDonald's has failed to swiftly close and disinfect stores following confirmed reports of COVID-19 employees," an open letter to McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski states. "To make matters worse, your restaurants have also failed to promptly inform workers of exposure to the virus and to provide pay during quarantine."
Five McDonald's workers in Chicago and four of their family members have also filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status, alleging that McDonald's hasn't provided enough masks, gloves and hand sanitizer to protect them from the outbreak.
McDonald's says the strike is a strategically timed "publicity stunt" by labor organizers and denies the accusations made by the suit and strike organizers, saying it's provided an "ample supply" of personal protective equipment.
"We are grateful for the 850,000 individuals who are the heart and soul of every McDonald's restaurant across the U.S. As a people business, providing a safe environment in the restaurants is a top priority," the company said in a statement Tuesday.
"And we're doing our part while keeping employees and customers safe. Since the start of the pandemic, we have made nearly 50 process changes in our restaurants in accordance with guidance from the CDC and state and local health experts.
"These include providing wellness and temperature checks, masks and gloves, social distancing guidelines, increased cleanings and installing protective barriers."
The strike Wednesday comes as McDonald's prepares to reopen in-restaurant dining at locations nationwide.
"As reopening begins in states across the country, we are implementing a 59-page 'playbook' that outlines the precautions we are requiring before restaurants reopen dining rooms. And we are confident that employees impacted by the virus are receiving sick pay to tend to their healthcare needs."
Workers at Amazon and its Whole Foods subsidiary conducted a worldwide "sick-out" in March to protest conditions and pay provided by the company and were similarly followed by workers at Target, Instacart, FedEx, Walmart and Shipt earlier this month.