'Managers Told Me To Put Mustard On It': Fast-Food Workers Say Burns Are Rampant, File OSHA Complaints

03/16/2015 12:17 pm ET | Updated Mar 17, 2015

More than two dozen low-wage McDonald's workers filed health and safety complaints against the fast-food chain on Monday, alleging that understaffing and time pressures in stores have led to burns, falls and other injuries, according to the worker group representing them.

The 28 complaints, involving stores in 18 cities, were filed with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the relevant state agencies tasked with ensuring safe workplaces. The workers submitted them with the support of Fight for $15, the union-backed labor coalition that's been agitating for a $15 minimum wage and union recognition in the industry. OSHA confirmed to The Huffington Post that it received the federal complaints Monday.

One Chicago worker, Brittney Berry, alleged that she was so harried one day she slipped and caught her arm on the grill, leading her to be hospitalized and suffer nerve damage. She said she was advised by managers to treat the burn with a condiment.

"My managers kept pushing me to work faster," Berry, who was arrested last year in an act of civil disobedience against McDonald's, said in a statement. "The managers told me to put mustard on it, but I ended up having to get rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. This is exactly why workers at McDonald’s need union rights."

The vast majority of McDonald's stores are operated by franchisees rather than the fast-food company, but in a Monday statement, Fight for $15 argued that the responsibility to keep workers safe ultimately falls on McDonald's.

"McDonald’s sets minimal health and safety standards for all franchisees, but even these modest measures are not properly enforced," the group said. "The company watches like a hawk nearly every aspect of its franchisees’ business operations via regular inspections, but it too often ignores health and safety problems."

"McDonald’s and its independent franchisees are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s Brand U.S. restaurants," McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhe said in a statement. "We will review these allegations. It is important to note that these complaints are part of a larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage."

The safety complaints are indeed part of a broader shaming campaign that's brought unprecedented scrutiny to the working conditions in fast food. For more than two years, Fight for $15, which is funded by the Service Employees International Union, has organized a highly successful series of strikes by workers at McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell and other restaurants in cities across the country. Much of that attention has been focused on McDonald's.

Workers and their allies are now fighting the company on multiple legal fronts. They've brought wage theft lawsuits against franchisees and named McDonald's itself as a defendant. They've filed reams of unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, succeeding in having the fast-food company named as a joint employer alongside its franchisees. And in January they filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging discrimination against African-American workers in McDonald's stores.

Coinciding with the filing of OSHA complaints, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a federation of worker safety groups, commissioned a poll of fast-food workers by Hart Research Associates, a firm that often polls for labor and progressive groups. Hart's Guy Molyneux confirmed to HuffPost that the poll was done online, via Facebook, in a manner in which some respondents were eligible to win gift cards -- a method the firm has been criticized for using in the past. Molyneux defended the method Monday.

"I have not seen any plausible or persuasive reason to think that compromises people's response in any way," he said.

According to Hart's survey of 1,426 adults in the industry, 87 percent reported having at least one injury in the past year, and 79 percent said they had been burned at some point during that time. Two-thirds said they had been cut, and one-third said they had hurt themselves while lifting or carrying items in their store. Twenty-three percent said they fell on a wet or oily floor.

Hart said its most shocking finding related to how burns are handled.

"Incredibly, one-third (33%) of all burn victims say that their manager suggested wholly inappropriate treatments for burns, including condiments such as mustard, mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup, instead of burn cream," the firm wrote.

Correction: The original post incorrectly stated that the poll was commissioned by Fight for $15; in fact, it was commissioned by NCOSH. This post has also been updated to explain Hart's polling method.

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