Workers at chains like Starbucks and McDonald's face violence and injuries on the job - and they're starting to speak out
- An attack on a McDonald's employee went viral earlier in January - but the employee seen in the video is far from the only fast-food worker dealing with violence at work.
- Fast-food and other chain-restaurant workers routinely face dangerous conditions, with 87% saying they have been injured at least once while on the job in the previous year.
- As fast-food workers strike and Starbucks installs syringe-disposal boxes to protect workers, fast-food chains' sometimes dangerous conditions are being thrust into the spotlight.
In the fast-food industry, a chain lives or dies based on the waiters, baristas, and cashiers it hires.
These workers often encounter routine risks, violence, and injuries while on the job. And, they are increasingly unwilling to stay silent on the dangers of the fast-food industry.For example, take Yasmine James. The 20-year-old McDonald's employee was attacked by a male customer while at work in early January. Another customer in the St. Petersburg, Florida, McDonald's recorded video as the man reached across the counter and grabbed James by her shirt, dragging her toward him.
A quick skim of fast-food news stories that broke in the last week alone confirms that James is far from the only fast-food worker facing danger while at work.
A customer recently burned a teenage McDonald's drive-thru worker by throwing hot coffee her face, according to Camden, South Carolina, police. A driver was reportedly assaulted while trying to deliver pizza in Saugus, Massachusetts. A customer allegedly threatened an employee with a gun at a Church's Chicken in Terrytown, Louisiana, after being denied a refund.
The list goes on - and these are only the incidents in which the police and media have become involved.
Even more incidents occur that don't make the news. In a 2015 survey of almost 1,500 fast-food workers, 12% said they had been assaulted on the job in the previous year.
Starbucks workers told Business Insider that they have been plagued by improperly discarded syringes in bathrooms, and that they are terrified of the inherent health risks. According to some workers, the chain's open-door policy that allows anyone to use bathrooms - whether or not they make purchases - can make their daily jobs more difficult.
"My coworkers and I had all experienced needles left behind in the bathroom, store, and even in our drive-thru," one former Starbucks worker said.
"My primary fear when I worked there would be taking out the bathroom garbages," said the former employee, who quit in 2018 after three years at the chain. "I was terrified that if I went to take the bag out, I would get poked by a needle I didn't know was there."
Fast-food giants need to take action
Fast-food companies say that they are working to protect workers.
"Our highest priority is always the safety and well-being of our employees and customers at our restaurants," a McDonald's representative said in a statement last week.However, protecting workers takes proactive effort. As workers increasingly have the power to speak out on social media and catch incidents on camera via smartphone, a dangerous incident can easily make national news - a public-relations nightmare for these mega-brands.
On Tuesday, fast-food workers in the Fight for $15 movement went on strike to support James. The employees are calling for chains to provide training that helps employees and managers handle violence at work, as well as new security protocols and protective policies.
Starbucks, for its part, is trying to make changes to help employees.
The coffee giant is testing installing sharps-disposal boxes, using heavier-duty trash bags to prevent needle pokes, and removing trash cans from certain bathrooms to prevent needle pokes.
"These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations, which is why we have protocols and resources in place to ensure our partners are out of harm's way," Starbucks representative Reggie Borges said earlier this week.