Last week, five workers from two Seattle locations of Dick’s Drive-In filed formal health & safety complaints with the Department of Labor & Industries, documenting a range of severe workplace issues including lack of hot water, frequent burns, poor sanitation practices, and failure to comply with COVID safety guidelines.
As everyone who lives in Kent knows, Dick’s operates its newest Drive-In on the city’s west hill at 24220 Pacific Highway South.
The complaints filed were for alleged violations at the Dick’s locations on Broadway and in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, not the newer one in Kent.
“Our investigation finds that most of these claims are demonstrably without merit,” said Dick’s President Jasmine Donovan. “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 added that upon learning of the complaints, Dick’s 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,” she said.
Here are the claims made by the five Dick’s employees:
- Failure to isolate people who may be sick: Instead of identifying and isolating sick workers, managers have pressed workers to come to work after being exposed to COVID-19 and awaiting test results.
- Lack of access to hot water: Hot water is frequently not available for hand-washing, cleaning, or other purposes in the Broadway location, a longstanding issue.
- Disregard for social distancing: Social distancing requirements are frequently ignored, especially in often-cramped back-of-house areas. Managers at the Queen Anne location even hold meetings in a small enclosed office with multiple employees, and often do not wear masks when away from customer-service areas.
- Poor health & safety conditions: Hand-washing is inconsistently required, refrigerators are contaminated with mold, and high-touch surfaces are not regularly sanitized. At the Broadway location, an electrical heater is often placed in the middle of a pool of water. First aid kits are inadequately stocked and inaccessible, and workers cleaning bathrooms are exposed to used needles without protective equipment or safety guidance.
- Exposure to maskless customers: Management makes little effort to control customers without masks who put their faces close to workers when orders are taken. Instead, managers have been known to instruct workers to simply serve maskless customers more quickly in order to reduce the time of exposure.
- Frequent burns: Kitchen staff are given thin plastic gloves which can melt to the skin when exposed to heat, and at least one worker has ended up in the emergency room with burns as a result. Other workers have been severely injured by hot oil and hot surfaces. Poor training on handling of cleaning products has led to chemical burns.
And here is the response from Dick’s Drive-Ins President Jasmine Donovan:
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.
You can learn more about our extensive COVID protocols inside and outside the restaurant at ddir.com/protocols-and-policies/. 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