Last year, during the height of the pandemic, low-wage workers at Durham restaurant Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, a Wichita-based chain, counted it as a partial victory when the business owners announced they would revisit their restaurant policies. Company officials agreed to pay up to 10 days of quarantine for any employee who tested positive for the coronavirus, “in recognition of the financial impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on employees and their families.”
The concessions came after the store’s workers staged two wildcat strikes to demand a cleaner workplace, hazard pay, and a living wage after two employees tested positive for the virus.
On Friday at noon, during the height of the lunch time rush, workers at the restaurant again walked away from their work stations to protest what they describe as “dangerous working conditions inside the store,” according to a press release from N.C. Raise Up/Fight for $15 and a Union.
The workers once again demanded COVID safety protections, a $15 wage, and union rights. Among the signs was one that read in reference to the third strike: “Freddy’s Three Strike You’re Out!”
During the rally, about 30 striking workers, including employees from other Freddy’s locations, who are all members of NC Raise Up/Fight for $15 and a Union, were joined by community supporters.
They stood outside the stalled business and chanted, “No money, No wealth. Don’t put a price on our health!,” and “What do we want? $15! And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!”
Indeed, the wildcatters shut the place down for the day. One hapless store manager parked a car in the drive-thru to prevent customers from ordering.
That prompted some of the workers to march through the drive-thru, while others taped signs to the restaurant doors.
“This store is closed,” one sign read. “We are all on strike – Freddy’s Workers.”
The reason for the one-day protest was spelled out in an official strike notification that indicated Freddy’s workers had learned of a COVID infection at the business on August 9. Nonetheless, the workers were “directed to clean the store ourselves and reopen for business less than three hours later.”
The notification states that management’s actions failed to honor the COVID policy that was agreed to in October, which included, among other things, “an immediate store closure and a full deep cleaning by professional cleaners.”
The workers say they should not have been asked to clean the store because it is not safe for them or the customers, because they do not have the expertise, or even the personal protective equipment to effectively perform the task.
“It was not until a manager also tested positive for COVID on August 11, 2021 that this outbreak was taken seriously by Freddy’s management and a professional cleaning was performed,” the workers stated in the notification.
“Our manager walked in with 2 bottles of liquid bleach, dumped the bleach on the floor and told us to mop. This was Freddy’s idea of a proper COVID cleaning, so they could reopen the store in an hour,” Ieisha Franceis, a member of N.C. Raise Up and one of the workers who organized the walk-out, stated in the release.
“I can’t believe we have to go on strike yet again, just to get common sense safety protections from Freddy’s corporation. We are striking and standing together because apparently it’s up to us workers to protect ourselves, each and even our customers,” she added.
“This is the third time that we’ve been on strike for the same reason. Freddy’s management doesn’t care about our health, they sure enough don’t care about our paychecks, and they don’t care about our families,” Jamila Allen said during the rally. “If we had a union, this would not have happened. Because we would be able to make sure they followed the rules. And we wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Friday’s wildcat strike was preceded by a one-day strike last year on September 4, 2020, when the entire staff walked out of the restaurant after learning that even though two co-workers had contracted COVID, Freddy’s management refused to professionally clean the store, and infected workers were forced to quarantine without pay.
The workers went on strike a second time one month later after discovering the store’s managers had “deliberately concealed COVID cases within the store, even as a COVID-positive manager continued to come to work,” according to Friday’s release.
The INDY could not immediately reach Jill Tinsely, a spokesperson for Freddy’s, for comment on Monday afternoon.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.