Fast food workers protest working conditions in Tampa

Nearly 100 activists with the Fight for 15 movement took to the streets Wednesday afternoon. They gathered outside a Busch Boulevard McDonald's to express their opposition to the conditions employees face on the job.

The action comes in the wake of a report released on Monday by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health revealing the extent of the problem of workplace injuries, with a staggering 79 percent of fast food workers being burned in the past year, 36 percent saying their workplace lacks a stocked and accessible first aid kit and, incredibly, 33 percent saying that they've been recommended to use inappropriate treatments such as condiments in lieu of actual burn cream.

Wednesday brought out protesters from across the state who had their own workplace injury horror stories.

“Half of the equipment doesn't work, which means we can't work,” said Laura Rollins, who has worked at a McDonald's in Miramar for the past five years. “Changing the oil in the vats, they have to use that nasty black oil, it gets nasty. We can't get them to change it how it's supposed to be changed. The toaster, the area we store the meat in, they're all broken. We work with a lot of broken stuff, we have to make do with a lot of products that we don't have, stuff that we need to make the food and sandwiches.”

In Rollins' five years with the company, she has only seen a ten cent raise. Rollins was joined by some of her co-workers in Miramar who she had been recruiting since she joined the Fight for 15, including Wesley Williams, who cites the constant injuries and overworking on a minimum wage as his reasons for joining the protest.

“We get burned on our arms from the grill, the store manager doesn't care," he said. "We're always shorthanded. An entire shift would only have three people, but the manager won't care as long as they don't have to shut the store down.”

The protest consisted of a march along Busch Boulevard from a Taco Bell to a McDonald's. There was a noticeable police presence that focused primarily on keeping protesters on the sidewalk in front of the McDonalds and not on McDonald's property. At one point they lined yellow tape between the sidewalk and Busch Boulevard in an attempt to keep protestors off the street. There was a briefly tense moment when protesters began to stand in the McDonalds parking lot, but the day's events went off without incident.

While the obvious topic was the workplace conditions, Wednesday's protest was also a reflection of the growth that the Fight for 15 has seen since its earliest incarnations in the Tampa Bay Bay Area. The group's ability to forge connections not only with fast food workers and organizers from throughout the states, but also occupations which fall under the low pay umbrella, including several home-based health care workers who were present at the protest, has allowed the Fight for 15 to become a sizable presence in local activism.

“It's not just about home care workers, it's about fast food workers, day care workers,” said Patricia Walker, who has been involved in the home care worker's fight for better wages. “It's about everybody that's not making enough money to provide for them in the right way without having to get public assistance. We're all fighting for the same thing, for everybody to be able to get what they earn.”

Along with continued protests focused on workplace conditions, the Fight for 15 has also launched a petition to be submitted to the Department of Labor, calling for an investigation the hazards faced by those in the fast food industry.

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