Fast food workers are using 911 call logs to draw attention to a hidden “crisis of violence”

Employees have been berated, attacked, had food thrown at them, and worse. A new report tallies 77,000 violent encounters on the job.

In the spring of this year, Perla Hernández, an employee at a Burger King store in Campbell, California, was making a burger when she heard some commotion in the dining area. Stepping out of the kitchen, she was terrified to see a customer brandishing a knife in what appeared to be a dispute with another diner, Hernández recalled in a recent interview. For safety, she cowered behind her manager who yelled at the customers to leave the restaurant. Later, when she suggested filing a police report, she said her manager shrugged off the suggestion.

Since being hired at Burger King nearly two years ago, Hernández said she’s never received any training on how to respond to violence in the workplace. She also said that due to understaffing, she is sometimes one of just two workers on a shift, and that the company doesn’t have a security guard on staff for her location. (Burger King did not respond to requests for comment.) On multiple occasions, she said, she’s feared for her life, due to belligerent behavior from customers. In instances where her managers have called 911, she said, police often enter with guns drawn, a sight that has also made her feel unsafe.

It’s no secret that fast food workers frequently encounter disruptive or even abusive customers: Just last month, a video of a chicken nugget “standoff” went viral, featuring a customer who refused to leave the drive-through lane of a Wendy’s store over the restaurant’s prices. In another video, a customer filmed himself berating a McDonald’s employee over their tone. Last year, an angry diner threw soda on a pregnant worker over a mistaken drink order, CNN reported.

Those experiences might not be all that unique, according to a new report on worker safety in the fast food industry. Last Wednesday, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) published a first-of-its-kind analysis that put into numbers just how common issues of assault and harassment are at some of the most popular fast food chains.

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