Workers rights advocacy group Working Washington has announced health and safety complaints have been filed with the state over COVID-19 conditions at two locations of Dick’s Drive-In including the popular Broadway burger stop.
“Dick’s Drive-In has a well-established reputation as a beloved community institution and a great place to work, but conditions in these stores right now simply don’t align with this history,” Working Washington’s press release on the complaints reads. “Workers know the company can do better, but managers have consistently failed to address these issues.”
The complaints filed with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries by five current and former employees allege failure to enforce mask-wearing by both employees and customers, inconsistent hand-washing requirements, mold contamination, and failure to adequately sanitize. The complaints also say thin plastic gloves provided to employees can melt and have sent at least one employee to the emergency room with burns.
The complaints are centered on the Broadway and Lower Queen Anne locations of the popular chain.
“Per the complaints filed with L&I, all of the workers say that they never received any form of training on COVID-19 signs or symptoms, nor on workplace prevention of the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. One worker alleges that they ‘have been instructed not to turn away maskless customers … but rather to serve customers faster to avoid prolonged contact,'” the Seattle Times reports.
“We only received notice of the complaint this afternoon,” Eater quotes a spokesperson for Dick’s as saying in response. “We take the safety of our employees and our customers very seriously. We are currently investigating this and will share more information as soon as we can. Our rating with the King County Health Department is excellent and that includes our COVID safety protocols for employees and customers.”
Like many Capitol Hill eateries, Dick’s has reopened to serve customers through the pandemic restrictions. For a time early in the crisis, the Broadway drive-in’s customers had to do without fries. At the time, Dick’s said the temporary menu change was due to the challenge at implementing social distancing guidelines in the small space inside the Broadway drive-in’s kitchen.
Dick’s will continue to operate the two locations while the state investigates the claims.
“Our investigation finds that most of these claims are demonstrably without merit,” Donovan writes. “The other allegations could only reference isolated incidents because they would be blatant violations of our procedures, techniques, training and values.”
“Although it is impossible to disprove a claim based on an unreported, isolated incident, we welcome this opportunity to continue to educate all of our employees about the importance of customer and employee safety,” Donovan says.
The company president also addresses some of the issues with the old infrastructure at the Broadway location. “Our Broadway and Queen Anne locations can be two of our most challenging in which to work,” she writes. “The buildings are older, especially our Broadway location, and the environment around the locations can be rough.”
Partly because of the challenges, Donovan says Dick’s pays its employees more at the Broadway and Queen Anne locations. But she says “broader issues the city of Seattle has been struggling with over the last several years” are the larger reasons the company pays its Capitol Hill and Queen Anne workers more.
“I empathize with our employees’ frustration that they have to regularly pick up used needles in our parking lots and restrooms,” she writes. “They do receive training and protective equipment to do so as safely as possible.” Donovan also says that Dick’s employees have been subject to verbal and physical assaults at both locations, requiring the company to hire security for the drive-ins.
“Just last week the Store Manager at our Broadway location was physically assaulted and had a gun drawn on him when he asked a customer to wear a mask on our patio,” Donovan writes.
CHS reported on the March 2nd gun incident here.
The full response is below.
— Dick's Drive-Ins (@DicksDriveIns) March 15, 2021
Thank you for your patience as we took the time to carefully investigate the five claims filed last week with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries regarding two of our locations. Our investigation finds that most of these claims are demonstrably without merit. The other allegations could only reference isolated incidents because they would be blatant violations of our procedures, techniques, training and values. Although it is impossible to disprove a claim based on an unreported, isolated incident, we welcome this opportunity to continue to educate all of our employees about the importance of customer and employee safety.
What We Did Immediately:
Upon learning of these complaints, we immediately performed unannounced inspections of both locations. Those inspections found everything to be in compliance with our extensive safety procedures and COVID protocols and no evidence of mold or mildew.
Because these complaints were widely publicized, we immediately reminded all managers and employees of our zero-tolerance policy for retaliation against employees who bring forward concerns, formally or informally.
Additionally, I personally reached out to all of our employees at all locations asking them to share any concern they might have about these complaints or anything else in our restaurants. All of our Store Managers did the same. I appreciated the responses I did get, none of which corroborated any of the items brought up in the L&I complaints.
Employees have reached out multiple times to me personally in the past, to share concerns and I encourage that. In fact, one of the employees who filed a complaint reached out to me a few weeks ago to share that he was frustrated that he did not get the time off he wanted. Before I had a chance to respond, he followed up to say he quit. Neither message mentioned anything other than his dissatisfaction with his time off request.
Dick’s Drive-Ins King County Health Ratings Are Excellent:
All of our restaurants are regularly inspected by County Public Health Departments. Our restaurants are held up as examples of clean, safe and well-run kitchens. We continue to maintain Public Health’s highest “Excellent” rating at all of our locations.
Click here to read our extensive COVID protocols inside and outside the restaurant. We’ve shared these via social media, in-store employee and customer signage and customer e-mails since the start of the pandemic and we will continue to do so. Our employees cannot always be 6 feet apart in our kitchens, however we’ve put many protocols in place to make them as safe as possible and have worked closely with Public Health to confirm that our kitchens meet all COVID safety requirements for restaurants.
Safety Training Begins Day One For All Employees:
The five complaints all reference limited or no safety training. This is blatantly false. From the first orientation day for all employees, safety is a primary topic. We have four managers dedicated completely to training employees across our locations on proper techniques and procedures, all of which are rooted in employee and customer safety.
Our L&I based safety program requires that all of our restaurants have a safety committee that holds quarterly meetings with a Manager and two employees nominated by their coworkers. Notes from these meetings are posted in the restaurants each quarter.
All Employee Injuries Are Documented:
All employee injuries in our restaurants have to be documented with L&I. If an employee went to the emergency room for burns of any kind they never reported it to anyone in the organization and it did not prevent them from coming to work as usual on their next shift. In 2020 and so far in 2021, we did not have a single reported burn related injury serious enough to warrant outside medical treatment or an L&I report.
Our Senior Leadership Team reviews all employee safety and customer safety issues in a meeting each month. Our employees do work in a kitchen with hot oil and a hot grill top. There are also sharp objects throughout. This is why safety is such a critical element underlying all of our very explicit procedures for everything we do in our kitchens.
Not All Locations are the Same:
Our Broadway and Queen Anne locations can be two of our most challenging in which to work. The buildings are older, especially our Broadway location, and the environment around the locations can be rough. We recognize this by offering $18 per hour starting wage at these locations which is higher than any of our other locations. The primary reasons these locations are more challenging have to do with the broader issues the city of Seattle has been struggling with over the last several years.
I empathize with our employees’ frustration that they have to regularly pick up used needles in our parking lots and restrooms. They do
receive training and protective equipment to do so as safely as possible.
Verbal and physical assaults on our employees by customers should never happen, but sadly it is frequent enough for us to hire security at multiple locations. Broadway and Queen Anne both require full-time security for the safety of our employees and customers due to the prevalence of mentally ill and/or drug addicted individuals who are relegated to wandering our streets while our social safety net fails them. Just last week the Store Manager at our Broadway location was physically assaulted and had a gun drawn on him when he asked a customer to wear a mask on our patio.
The fact that we have to have procedures for collecting and disposing of used needles, full-time security for safety and that our employees are exposed to the above behavior is truly unfortunate.
On behalf of everyone at Dick’s Drive-Ins, I want to emphasize that our commitment to employee and customer safety is as unwavering today as it has been for over 67 years. Our enduring purpose is to provide timeless value and build life-long memories with our customers, employees and community. We cannot do that without operating clean and safe kitchens. We look forward to serving you again at our restaurants soon.
President, Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants
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