In-N-Out Burger threatens workers’ health

The fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger will start banning workers from wearing masks, further endangering their health amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In-N-Out workers prefer to keep their masks on. July 2023. WW Photo: John Taggart

In a corporate memo leaked on July 14, company bosses ordered employees not to mask, threatening to fire anyone who disobeys. The ban, which will go into effect on Aug. 14, applies to In-N-Out restaurants in five out of the seven U.S states where the chain operates: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

Many leading doctors and epidemiologists denounced In-N-Out’s policy as a threat to the health of both employees and customers. In a tweet, Dr. Judy Stone, an expert in infectious diseases, wrote that the In-N-Out masking ban “threatens their employees’ health.” Many doctors and labor and disability justice activists have called for a boycott of the chain.

Activists from the California-based health care coalition, Action for Care and Equity (ACE), gathered outside In-N-Out’s headquarters in Irvine on July 20 to protest the ban. ACE organized further protests last week.

In-N-Out’s ban coincides with yet another surge of COVID-19 cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, on the week of July 15 alone, U.S. hospitals admitted over 7,000 COVID-19 patients, a 10% rise in hospitalizations from the previous week. 

Under the ownership of billionaire heiress Lynsi Snyder, In-N-Out Burger has become a major player in right-wing, anti-worker politics in California. In 2022 alone, the company gave $40,000 to the ultimately unsuccessful Republican campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom and $750,000 to the GOP-controlled Congressional Leadership Fund.

Along with other fast-food giants, including McDonald’s and Chipotle, In-N-Out has also been bankrolling a campaign to quash legislation that would raise California’s minimum wage to $22. 

The recent masking ban is not the first time In-N-Out has endangered public health during the pandemic. In October 2021, taking their cue from the reactionary politics of its owner, petit bourgeois bosses of the chain’s San Francisco restaurant refused to comply with the city’s proof-of-vaccination mandate. 

To underscore its disregard for employee and customer safety, In-N-Out’s corporate spokesperson defended the San Francisco restaurant’s decision, writing, “we refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.” (New York Times, Oct. 21, 2021)

Although vicious, In-N-Out’s mask ban is a logical extension of the ruling class campaign to “normalize” the ongoing pandemic. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 continues to infect, disable and kill thousands of people every week worldwide, yet the corporate media repeats the lie that the threat from COVID-19 has passed and celebrates a supposed “return to pre-pandemic life.”

Since the WHO, under pressure from international investors, declared an end to the pandemic emergency in May, capitalist governments have abandoned most pandemic safeguards. Without such basic measures to protect their safety, workers worldwide remain at disproportionate risk of catching potentially disabling infections that restrict their ability to work and can leave them with chronic medical conditions. 

Revolutionary solidarity demands that we organize along with In-N-Out employees and workers around the world to protect their health, and continue the fight to ensure that their well-being — and not capitalist profits — takes priority.

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