Fast food workers are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in addition to facing difficult work conditions during the pandemic, a new UCLA Labor Center study published this month reveals.

The report provides an in-depth portrait of COVID-19 safety compliance through the lens of fast food workers’ accounts and testimonies. There are nearly 150,000 restaurant workers in the fast food sector in Los Angeles, according to the study. A vast majority of those workers are women and people of color who have been on the frontline of enforcing COVID-19 protocols.

The report finds many fast food workers do not receive the workplace protections to which they are legally entitled despite working the frontline roles during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of fast food workers contracted COVID-19 in the last 18 months, and less than half were notified by their employees after they had been exposed to COVID-19.

“More than half of workers felt that employers didn’t address their needs after they spoke up, and some even faced retaliation for doing so,” Tia Koonse, report author and Legal and Policy Research Manager at the UCLA Labor Center, said in a statement. “COVID-19 safety protocols like paid sick leave reduce the incidence of frontline food service employees working while they are sick, but these measures have been insufficient in this sector. Only 47 percent of fast-food workers received paid sick leave when they or their coworkers contracted the virus.”

Violations of labor standards within fast food restaurants have increased and worsened during the pandemic, according to the study. Almost two-thirds of workers have experienced wage theft, and over half have faced health and safety hazards on the job, amounting to injuries to 43 percent of workers.

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