Fast food workers still fighting for wages, benefits and safety during pandemic

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NEW YORK — Fast food workers are still fighting the same battles they have been for years with the added pressure of a pandemic.

Big chains like McDonalds and Chipotle are certainly taking a hit due to COVID-19 with dining rooms closed. However, with drive-thrus and takeout built in to their businesses, they are holding up better than many.

Advocates say one of the reasons fast food chains are getting by is continuing to squeeze their workforce.

“These companies say we are essential, but they don’t treat us as essential,” said Luis Torres, who works for Chipotle in Midtown. “It’s just a title to feel special.”

Torres said when his mom got sick with COVID-19, and he had to self-quarantine, he was only paid for one week of work and not put on the schedule again until a month later. His hours remain reduced.

Similar stories were shared during a “Fight for 15” virtual strike with fast food workers from all around the country this afternoon. They talked about inadequate personal protective gear and reduced hours as punishment for asking for accommodations during the pandemic.

Fast food workers have been on the front lines of campaigns for raising minimum wage and sick leave for years.Now for the first time many are being told they are “essential,” meaning they have to work through the pandemic instead of staying home.

PIX11 News asked NYU Stern School of Business’s Hans Taparia if working through these conditions would give them more leverage moving forward.

“I think the social justice efforts will pick up steam,” Taparia said. “But the corporation is getting more powerful… and with large unemployment the leverage shifts to the corporation.”

Taparia said look for companies to use more automation post-pandemic to keep prices and wages low.He also said the long term impacts of COVID-19 may be making consumers more self-sufficient and therefore changing behavior.

“With cooking proficiency improving as we speak, and less consumption of fast food, there’s an interesting public health opportunity in front of us from a consumer perspective,” Taparia said, adding that shift could be the real threat to fast food and fast food jobs.

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