This is Ieshia Townsend. She works at a McDonald's on the South Side of Chicago. And like so many, COVID-19 has changed her life. She said at first, McDonald's didn't provide masks for its workers.
Townsend: "It scares me that our workers, we can't be protected because corporations like McDonald's and also other fast food places, they don't care."
She’s part of a movement to help unionize McDonald’s workers. But for now their goal has shifted to protecting employee health.
Townsend: "You can't fire me for protesting. That's illegal. I'm not worried of them trying to fire me. I'm not scared. I just think what I'm doing is best for me and my family."
The owner of the McDonald's franchise where Townsend works tells Newsy, "We encouraged the use of DIY masks while we waited for nonmedical-grade masks to arrive, which we have now received." McDonald's corporate says more than 100 million nonmedical-grade masks will be distributed to U.S. restaurants, but in the meantime, DIY masks are encouraged.
Around the country, fast food workers have been protesting for better protection against COVID-19. In North Carolina, McDonald's employee Rita Blalock says the restaurant she works at didn't start offering masks until days after she spoke to the media.
Blalock: "It's just amazing how I have to ... do interviews to make them understand how serious this is."
But Blalock says it's hard to practice social distancing in a small kitchen, and the masks provided are too thin.
Blalock: "If you put a lighter in front of it and blow, you could blow the light out."
This is not just a McDonald's issue. Other fast food workers, Instacart shoppers, Amazon workers, grocery store clerks and meat processing workers have been vocal about a lack of worker protection. But industry is fearful that mandatory rules about coronavirus protections could open companies up to lawsuits by workers who may get sick. Companies have been pressuring Congress to protect them from such suits.
Campbell: "Companies really don't want to have to be bound legally to protect their workers. So they're doing it now, because they want to be nice or whatever, but they don't have to."
Alexia Fernández Campbell has been covering workers' rights at the Center for Public Integrity. As of now, OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has created guidelines for companies to follow, but it's not the law.
"That's the gap: The gap that exists is that there is no law requiring employers to protect workers from COVID-19."
Fernández Campbell: "The Hospital Association, it's the hospital industry. They've been lobbying against any effort to create a rule that would require employers to provide proof-protective gear and take other measures to make sure that employees do not catch an infectious disease like respiratory."
Nurses unions have been rallying to demand required PPE gear in their hospitals. And if nurses can't get shields and masks and make that a mandatory need in hospitals, it'll be hard for fast food workers to demand the same.
Cat Sandoval, Newsy, Chicago.