- 44% of McDonald's workers said they had been verbally or physically assaulted after confronting customers who weren't wearing masks, according to a new Service Employees International Union survey.
- "Throughout the pandemic, McDonald's has failed to protect us from COVID-19," said McDonald's worker Maria Villaseñor. "Now it's asking us to police a culture war that's not in our job description and that we're not paid to do."
- "It's disappointing to see the SEIU stirring up media attention yet again with these inaccurate characterizations, which do not represent what is happening in our 14,000 restaurants across the country," McDonald's said in a statement.
- Starbucks, Walmart, Target, and a number of other retailers have recently announced that customers will be required to wear masks in all locations across the US.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
As mask requirements becomes the norm during the coronavirus pandemic, companies are facing looming questions on how workers can safely enforce new policies.
A Service Employees International Union survey of 4,187 McDonald's workers shared with Business Insider found that 44% of respondents said they had been verbally or physically assaulted after confronting customers who weren't wearing masks.
While the SEIU only surveyed a small proportion of the chain's more than than 800,000 workers in the US, the 44% of respondents alone represent more than 1,800 employees who say they have been assaulted on the job.
One McDonald's worker who was assaulted at work is Maria Resendiz, who visited the hospital in late June after being grabbed and hit by an anti-mask customer through a drive-thru window in Oakland, California, she told Business Insider. In Illinois, María Villaseñor recently filed a complaint with the Chicago Department of Public Health after seeing a McDonald's coworker attacked by a customer she asked to wear a mask.
Read more: A 19-year-old McDonald's worker was assaulted after asking a customer to wear a mask, revealing a growing crisis in the restaurant industry
"Throughout the pandemic, McDonald's has failed to protect us from COVID-19," Villaseñor told Business Insider. "Now it's asking us to police a culture war that's not in our job description and that we're not paid to do."
McDonald's said in a statement to Business Insider that it is "disappointing to see the SEIU stirring up media attention yet again with these inaccurate characterizations, which do not represent what is happening in our 14,000 restaurants across the country."
"This survey represents just 0.5% of the more than 800,000 crew and managers within our McDonald's family working across our U.S. restaurants," the statement continues. "While the SEIU is spending time sharing misinformation, McDonald's and our 2,000 franchisees are focused on keeping crew and managers employed in safe environments to serve healthcare workers, first responders, and communities during this pandemic."
Costco, Walmart, and Kroger are now requiring customers to wear masks across the US
Costco and Apple stores began requiring all customers to wear masks in May. On Wednesday, Starbucks' mandatory mask policy went into effect. Walmart, Best Buy, and Kroger all announced plans to roll out similar policies on Wednesday. On Thursday, CVS and Target did the same.
The National Retail Federation issued a statement on Wednesday, encouraging other retailers to issue their own national mask policies.
"Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus," the NRF statement reads.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has similarly pushed for retailers to roll out national mask policies, with president Marc Perrone saying on Thursday that Target and Walmart's announcements were "long overdue."
"Every retailer and grocery store across this nation must adopt a mask requirement, and enforcement must be done by trained professionals, not retail workers already stretched thin during this crisis," Perrone said in a statement.
Even before chains rolled out national policies, workers tasked with enforcing local requirements have been forced to deal with aggressive anti-mask customers.
Viral videos show employees being forced to confront aggressive anti-mask customers at Target and Costco. Numerous restaurants shut down dining rooms after staff members were harassed by anti-mask customers. A Starbucks barista in San Diego had a customer begin cursing at him, threaten to call the corporate office, and post a complaint about the incident on Facebook after he asked her to wear a mask.
Other individuals who ask customers to wear masks have also faced the wrath of anti-mask shoppers.
In Michigan, a man was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy after stabbing a fellow customer at a convenience store who asked him to put on a mask. In Florida, an unmasked Walmart shopper pulled a gun on another shopper wearing a mask. A man who was asked to leave a Walmart in Louisiana because he was not wearing a mask has been accused of hitting a police officer with his car in retaliation.
Companies' safety plans do not always match with workers' realities
Most Americans support policies that require people to wear masks in public, according to The Harris Poll. In a recent survey, 78% of respondents said they believed retail workers should be responsible for enforcing mask policies.
While anti-mask customers make up a small minority of the country, the SEIU survey and reports of harassment and assault show that these individuals are having an outsized impact on workers' lives.
McDonald's and Starbucks have emphasized de-escalation training as a way to protect workers.
"This is a challenging and unprecedented time for the country and the world and we recognize restaurant crew have questions on how to stay safe," McDonald's said in a statement on Thursday. "Since February, McDonald's USA has updated nearly 50 processes to keep restaurant employees and customers safe and has issued a 59-page guide outlining national standards restaurants must implement."
"These include wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social distancing guidelines for customers and crew and requiring gloves and masks, which are in ample supply in restaurants," the statement continues. "With safety in mind, we have also made further de-escalation trainings available to restaurants."
Other aspects of the SEIU survey suggest some McDonald's locations are falling short of the fast-food giant's safety plans.
SEIU surveyors who visited 116 McDonald's locations across 12 states observed McDonald's workers either not wearing a mask or wearing one improperly at 44% of locations. They also reported that employees were not social distancing at more than half of the locations.
Workers who were surveyed said they were left in the dark about COVID-19 cases at their locations. 46% of McDonald's workers who said that they were aware of a COVID-19 case at their store said they were not alerted of the case by their employer. And, only 28% of workers who knew of a confirmed case at their store said they were offered paid time off so that they could quarantine.
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