Menu Close

For more than fifty years, the UCLA Labor Center has created innovative programs that offer a range of educational, research, and public service activities within the university and in the broader community.

And the Center just published a new report, Fast-Food Frontline: COVID-19 and Working Conditions in Los Angeles, which finds that fast-food workers in Los Angeles County are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, in addition to facing difficult work conditions that became more acute during the pandemic.

This study was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) to understand the experience of fast-food workers during COVID-19 and more generally. The second of a two-part study, this report is based on 417 surveys and fifteen in-depth interviews with nonmanagerial fast-food workers in Los Angeles County conducted between June and October 2021.The report is the first in the nation to provide an in-depth portrait of COVID-19 safety compliance through the lens of fast-food workers themselves.

According to the study, COVID-19 profoundly impacted the lives and workplaces of fast-food workers in Los Angeles County, and fast-food workers had their own specific set of experiences and challenges related to COVID-19 guidelines, transmission, employer response, and protection.

– – Most employers provided masks and gloves. Yet, half of workers reported that the number of employer-provided masks or gloves was insufficient or provided too infrequently. Nearly 40% purchased their own masks or gloves, and more than one in ten needed the supplies but could not afford to buy their own.
– – After the mask mandate, 84% of workers said customers were required to wear one, yet many workers interviewed shared stories of unmasked customers.
– – Over half (53%) experienced negative interactions with restaurant patrons or co-workers over COVID- 19 safety protocols, including being yelled at (34%), threatened (13%), and physically assaulted (4%).
– – Nearly a quarter (23%) of workers reported testing positive for COVID-19, and half (49%) knew about positive cases among their coworkers.
– – Notification of potential transmission was haphazard. Employers rarely (42%) or sometimes (25%) notified workers of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. A third (32%) said employers took no action of any kind to support exposed workers.
– – Fewer than half (47%) were allowed paid sick leave if they or a co-worker contracted the virus.
– – Nearly one in five (17%) workers said they experienced some type of retaliation when asking for protection or taking leave, and 16% were not sure if they had.
– – Most (66%) fast-food workers experienced an increase in their stress levels due to the pandemic. Many (42%) feared having to come back into the workplace. Workers experienced irregular sleep patterns (41%), depression (34%), and appetite change (23%).

This report shows that fast-food workers faced dangerous and difficult working conditions, high transmission rates of COVID-19, and significant economic and health impacts. These findings show the need for policy intervention in the fast-food industry. Based on the results of the survey and interview, the authors made several recommendations. The most significant was the recommendation that authorities enforce COVID-19 safety protocols and provide workers with adequate protection from retaliation and abuse for enforcing those protocols.