Fast-food workers describe melting food and air so hot it ‘felt like the grease from the kitchen was sliding down our throats’ as record heat pummels parts of the US

McDonald's workers protest heat conditions at a Los Angeles store.
McDonald’s workers protest heat conditions at a Los Angeles store. Courtesy of Fight for $15
  • Workers at McDonald’s and Jack in the Box protested working in 100-degree temperatures.
  • Jack in the Box workers filed an OSHA complaint after their manager said they were exaggerating.
  • Workers at a Hooters and a Voodoo Doughnut shop also held walkouts over the high temperatures.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Fast-food workers are struggling to beat the heat as many areas in the US continue to face record temperatures.

“It was uncomfortable and hard to breathe,” Laura Pozos, a Los Angeles McDonald’s worker, told Insider after she said her location went without an air conditioner or working kitchen ventilator, with the in-store temperature hitting about 100 degrees. “It felt like the grease from the kitchen was sliding down our throats.”

McDonald’s told Insider that 950 Floral Drive, the location where Pozos works, has been fully operational during the heat wave, and that a Department of Public Health inspection on June 23 found an ambient kitchen temperature of 73 degrees.

The heat wave has prompted several walkouts across the West Coast. On Tuesday, workers at a Sacramento, California, Jack in the Box went on strike when conditions inside the restaurant hit as high as 109 degrees, according to a complaint the workers filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Sacramento County Public Health.

In the complaint, the group said that the air conditioning at the store was frequently broken and that management had not implemented any strategies to keep workers safe from excessive heat exposure.

Jack In The Box workers protest heat conditions at Sacramento location.
Jack in the Box workers protest heat conditions in Sacramento, California. Courtesy of Fight for $15

“She said we were exaggerating and hot because of menopause,” one worker said in the OSHA complaint.

The location is one of many fast-food sites in California that has faced backlash from employees who say they have been forced to work in extreme heat.

On Sunday, workers at a Voodoo Doughnut store in Portland, Oregon, staged a walkout over heat conditions. The union Doughnut Workers United said in a Facebook post that temperatures were so high that doughnuts were melting and the frosting wouldn’t dry. A Voodoo Doughnut spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Insider but told HuffPost that they had kept the store air conditioner running and altered the store schedule to keep employees from working under peak temperatures.

Earlier in June, Hooters workers in Houston held a walkout, saying the location went a month without air conditioning. A waitress told local news the store was so hot that the workers would gather in the ice cooler.

Similarly, a McDonald’s off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles staged a protest on June 17 to demand the company repair its air-conditioning unit.

“The well-being of my employees is my top priority,” the location’s owner Frances Jones said. “The air conditioning unit in our restaurant was down for a few days, but was promptly repaired and has been operational for several weeks. While the air conditioning unit was being repaired, additional fans were placed throughout the restaurant to help keep our employees cool.”

-Fight for $15 LA (@Fightfor15LA) June 22, 2021

Pozos, who works at another location in Los Angeles, told Insider the heat poses an imminent risk to fast-food workers. She said that while the air conditioning and kitchen-ventilation system were fixed when her store hired a new manager, workers’ health should not be dependent on the generosity of their managers.

Pozos pointed to workers’ support of a bill introduced in the state Legislature at the beginning of the year that would create a California Fast-Food Sector Council and give workers a voice in setting industry standards for fast food in California.

“We need a better place to go,” Pozos said. “We need to go directly to the people who would help enforce these issues or we will definitely continue to keep having these issues.”

Jack in the Box, and Hooters did not respond to requests for comment. Insider reached out to the individual stores, but the managers said they were not able to provide statements without corporate approval.