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After Years Without Benefits, I-95 McDonald's Workers Strike

Sixty-year-old Conzuela Punto has been working at a McDonald’s rest stop in Connecticut for 18 years without benefits. 

“I’m supporting my colleagues who have been working at McDonald’s for 25 years,” said Punto in Spanish.

Workers at two I-95 McDonald’s service plazas held a one-day strike on Thursday. They’re demanding an end to what they say are intimidation tactics as they try to unionize. It’s estimated that dozens of workers walked off the job at rest stops in Darien and Branford. 

Azucena Santiago joined union members at a rally in Hartford at the Capitol Building to demand hazard pay, benefits expansion and higher wages.
Santiago has been working for two years at McDonald’s. Although she did not strike, she says the way she was treated by management during the pandemic led her to seek support from Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. 

“During the pandemic, my hours were cut back while I was trying to care for my two daughters, and sometimes I’d have to come to work sick,” said Santiago. 

Last year, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of I-95 McDonald’s franchise service plaza workers. Federal labor officials ruled that the fast food restaurants owned by George Michell and Roger Facey improperly retaliated against employees for union activities. Connecticut Public reached out to corporate offices for comment but did not hear back.

Many of the striking workers are Latino/a, like Leticia Salcedo, 40. She says nonunion workers like herself need benefits like paid sick days, something they have not had during the pandemic. 

“That is why we are supporting the union, so that we have something to back us up, to support us,” said Salcedo. “It is not fair that we have no benefits, that we have nothing.”  

Union leaders are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to end what they term “union busting” on state-owned property. 

“All essential workers, including 32BJ’s 5,000 Connecticut members, deserve hazard pay for their risks to themselves and their families during the COVID pandemic,” said Rochelle Palache, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. 

McDonald’s restaurants remained open during the strike. Union officials said workers were brought in from other locations. 

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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