One Burger King staffer died of the virus after managers ignored her symptoms.
Fast-food workers across the country protested the allegedly unsafe work conditions at major fast food chains amid complaints about a lack of adequate COVID-19 protection.
Fast-food staffers across Illinois and California filed complaints with city officials, walked from their jobs and staged strikes against quick service giants McDonald’s and Burger King on Wednesday, demanding better treatment and proper workplace protections from the raging pandemic.
The protests came just days after a Santa Monica Burger King worker died after displaying symptoms of coronavirus, advocacy groups said, citing accounts from the victim’s co-workers.
The woman, Angela Martinez Gomez, worked her shifts for at least a week while exhibiting symptoms — which included coughing and nausea, according to a complaint filed on her behalf — but managers allegedly brushed off her symptoms, saying they were probably just side-effects of her hormone injections.
Gomez, who is transgender, died on July 6.
A spokesperson for Cal/OSHA said her office was investigating the death of a Burger King worker in Santa Monica, but she said the details of that investigation are confidential.
“Last week Cal/OSHA was notified of a fatality involving a worker of Burger King in Santa Monica,” Cal/OSHA told ABC News in a statement Wednesday. “This is all the information available at this time. Cal/OSHA is investigating and until the time that the investigation is complete, the case is open and confidential.”
Employees at the Santa Monica restaurant said they filed a complaint with state and county officials in the wake of Gomez’s death, saying they were concerned about potentially “dangerous” conditions in the restaurant: infrequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, lack of face masks and lax enforcement of social distancing, according to local news outlet KTLA, which obtained a copy of the five-page complaint to local officials.
Co-workers said Gomez was coughing, nauseated and “running to the restroom a lot” before going home sick on June 29, according to the KTLA report.
Later, another employee, identified in the complaint as Mariela, reportedly developed symptoms and a high temperature, but a manager allowed her to keep working, according to the report.
“Burger King has kept us in the dark and our lives and our families are at risk,” the complaint stated. “Burger King has not told us there are COVID-19 cases or suspected cases at the store and they are not being honest about what happened with Angela and Mariela.”
“Angela had COVID-19 symptoms at work, but Burger King blamed her sexuality instead of COVID-19 as the cause of her death,” it added. “Angela was a transgender woman, and management said she died, ‘from injecting hormones’… that doesn’t make sense to me.”
A family spokesperson confirmed Gomez’s symptoms to ABC News on Wednesday, but they were waiting for the medical examiner to release her official cause of death before speaking further.
The Burger King workers are asking local regulators to immediately close the location until a deep cleaning and safety plan has been implemented. They are also asking for paid leaves during any COVID-19-related closures and seeking compensation for any time missed due to coronavirus exposure in the workplace.
A Burger King spokesperson said the company was “saddened to hear” of Gomez’s death and vowed to investigate the manager’s alleged use of transphobic language.
“Burger King restaurants follow rigorous precautions to keep team members and guests safe at all times,” the company said in a statement last week. “There has been no news or confirmation that Angela’s tragic death was associated with COVID-19. No symptoms were reported by the team at that location.”
Separately, McDonald’s workers throughout Chicago staged similar protests on Wednesday, walking out on the job and demanding better workplace protection as the number of coronavirus infections continue to rise in the city.
Sujey Figueroa, an employee at a Chicago McDonald’s, said she participated in the strike because she wants her safety concerns “to be taken seriously.”
She said the company has failed to provide proper workplace protection, and accused managers at her location of physical and emotional abuse. Other employees have also levied allegations of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of managers at the same location.
“We’re fighting for our rights as people and humans. I’m on strike because I was attacked by [management] at McDonald’s,” Figueroa said in a video statement released Wednesday by Fight For 15 Chicago, a fair wage advocacy group. “I want to be taken seriously. This was no accident.”
McDonald’s did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment late Wednesday.