LA County fast food workers were given masks 'too infrequently' by employers, new UCLA study shows

The UCLA Labor Center surveyed more than 400 fast food workers last year and found nearly 1 in 4 workers contracted the virus.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A new study is highlighting the disproportionate harm experienced by fast food workers across Los Angeles County during the pandemic, and it shows many have not had access to the gear they need to stay safe.

Starting Monday, Jan. 17, employees across the county who work indoors alongside others will be required to wear medical-grade masks, according to a new county health order. Employers will be required to provide the masks, and employees will be required to wear them.

The UCLA Labor Center surveyed more than 400 fast food workers in L.A. County between June and October 2021. It found nearly 1 in 4 L.A. County workers contracted the virus and employers rarely or sometimes notified workers of COVID-19 exposures in the workplace.

"This cannot be normalized anymore," said Manuel Villanueva, the Western Regional Director for Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) United, a national nonprofit that works to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers and a community partner who helped with the study. "People's lives are at risk, and right now, we're dealing with a lot more issues than we were before."

In L.A., most fast food workers are women and people of color - predominantly Latino - and getting sick leave is not a reality for many of these workers.

According to the study, most employers provided masks and gloves to their workers, but roughly half of workers reported saying it was not enough or say the gear was "provided infrequently."

"We heard many stories of kind of egregious violations of exposures at the workplace, and then, you know, managers outright denying it," said Saba Waheed, the research director for the UCLA Labor Center. "Less than half got the sick leave that was actually required and that there were actually increased sick leave benefits happening during that time."

Villanueva said ROC United conducts outreach missions to help workers and businesses better understand safety guidelines.

"Other people have voiced to us that they will give out two masks a week, and then the rest, they will have to buy for like $1," said Villanueva. "We give them kind of like the guide of what they should have and what to look for, specific websites that are easy and multi-language."

Among other recommendations, the report urges protocols be enforced and employees be protected from retaliation.

"There's a big wave of violence among customers and restaurant workers, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to be kind to each other," said Villanueva. "Restaurant workers, they just want to feed you, and they want to support and keep their family safe. So let's be kind to one another."

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