Arby's workers strike for pay, PPE

Staffers want an additional $3 an hour to work during pandemic

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MORRIS – At 11 a.m. Wednesday, a majority of the workers at Arby’s in Morris, located at 1435 Commons Drive, walked out and went on strike.

The workers claim that the franchise, owned by Miller Group USA LLC, has not issued them any masks or personal protection equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also are demanding hazard pay for putting their lives on the line while working during the pandemic.

“Nine of the 12 workers here are walking out,” said Braden Lauder, a shift manager at Arby’s and spokesman for the group. “We feel we should be compensated for the work we are doing.”

In a letter defining their grievances and intentions, Lauder pointed out that since Gov. JB Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order March 21, sales at Arby’s have increased.

“As a direct result of the increased activity of our restaurant, we, the employees that carry out the day-to-day tasks that generate revenue and profit for our franchise, have exposed ourselves to potentially life-threatening danger in order to ensure that the business remains in operation,” said Lauder, 23, of Morris. “While we are on the front lines of this crisis, handling the cash and credit cards of well over 100 different individuals each business day, at a much closer proximity than the recommended 6 feet, the franchise owners are experiencing little to no increased risk to their personal health and safety.

“It stands to reason that the crew responsible for Miller Group continuing to turn a profit should be receiving additional compensation, or hazard pay, in correlation with the increased risks that we face on a daily basis.”

The group is asking for an additional $3 an hour for every employee, not just in the Morris store but the entire franchise, until the health crisis is resolved. In addition to the supplemental hourly hazard pay, they also have demanded a consistent supply of PPE, including but not limited to masks, gloves, disinfectant and sanitizer.

Lauder said not receiving any PPE is not the first issue that workers have had with the ownership group. He said that Arby’s requires its restaurants to have three microwaves. While the Morris franchise has three microwaves, Lauder said only two of them are in working condition, and one of those was only replaced April 27 after months of operating with only one. He also said the drive-thru ice machine has not functioned properly for months, forcing employees to retrieve buckets of ice from the dining room ice machine and dump them in the drive-thru machine. He also said that the air conditioning in the lobby is in working condition, but behind the counter, it has not worked for over a year.

“As if those issues weren’t sufficient, our freezer, where we store most of the products that we serve to the public, has been consistently registering temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, when it should be somewhere in the -10 to 10 degree range.

“That majority of these issues may seem somewhat trivial to the outside perspective, but when the franchise consistently fails to deliver on its promises to maintain the equipment that we use on a daily basis to do our jobs properly, it is yet another way that they demonstrate their lack of appreciation for us and the work that we do.”

Miller Group USA LLC owns 17 Arby’s franchises in central Illinois. Besides Morris, they have franchises in Ottawa, Pontiac, Bloomington (Market Street, Rabb Road, Empire Street, Morrissey Crossing), Lincoln, Decatur, Morton, Pekin, Creve Coeur, Washington, East Peoria, Peoria (Allen Road), Sterling and Dunlap.

Miller Group USA LLC did not return a call for comment.

Lauder said all he and his fellow workers want is to be treated fairly.

“We understand that the middle of an international health crisis is not the ideal time to make a political maneuver such as this,” he said. “By no means do we intend to take any attention away from the other victims of this crisis, such as those who have lost their lives to this horrible disease, the family members who could not even be by their side as they took their final breaths and the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who are taking much greater risks than we are.

“However, we also feel that it would be morally reprehensible for us to do nothing and let companies such as Arby’s continue to exploit the labor of their employees.”