Pizza pandemic

This is the online version of Popular Information, a newsletter about politics and power — written by me, Judd Legum. You can sign up for your own subscription to get independent accountability journalism straight to your inbox:

The American economy is cratering, with 10 million people filing for unemployment in the last two weeks. The pizza business, however, is booming. Americans are eating at home and gravitating toward a comfort food that has been delivered for decades. 

Major chains are on a hiring spree to keep up with demand. Domino's is hiring for 10,000 positions. Papa John's is looking for 20,000 new employees. And Pizza Hut has 30,000 open positions

Domino's, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut all tout steps they are taking to protect the safety of their customers and workers. But Popular Information has learned from more than four dozen pizza workers that the three chains aren't living up to their promises. Drivers and cooks are provided with little, if any, protective gear. They are putting their health at risk by coming into frequent contact with the public and other employees. And, except in states where it is required by law, they almost never have access to paid sick leave. 


Domino's CEO Ritch Allison, in an open letter, says the company has "implemented a number of precautions based on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other health authorities to minimize the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 for both team members and customers." Specifically, Allison claims, "we are putting procedures in place to increase the emphasis on handwashing and other related measures to promote the health and safety of customers and team members, including drivers, to make sure everyone stays safe."

Popular Information has been in touch with 26 Domino's workers, including 14 in the United States and 12 abroad. Just five reported being given sanitizer for their personal use. Four reported receiving additional gloves. The vast majority of Domino's workers report they have been provided with no additional supplies whatsoever. None had been provided with masks, even though it is now an official CDC recommendation to wear masks in public. 

One Domino's worker in Scotland outlined their concerns:

No PPE [personal protective equipment] provided. Drivers still having too close contact with potentially infected customers not to mention [the] risk of drivers carrying the virus into our communities. Hot bags that carry food remain unsanitized but are handled by numerous staff per day. This means pizza packaging could well be infected.

A driver in Texas reports that their location ran out of soap, and they were forced to provide their own protective equipment.

When the GM was told we were low on soap, they failed to order more. The GM and other management have failed on staying on top of replacing the sanitizer and soap in the store. Drivers and insiders have not received proper training in how to do contactless orders. This is not being taken seriously by management. There are only two drivers (including myself) that are keeping up with gloves and masks, and we’ve made ours and scavenged our own gloves. 

A Domino's spokesperson told Popular Information that all stores "have been provided ample hand soap, store cleaning products and sanitizer solutions throughout this period, as well as much hand sanitizer as we are able to source." 

The spokesperson also said that Domino's "has procured touchless thermometers" and "non-medical grade masks and gloves." These items, she said, "will begin arriving in stores this week, though priority will be given to places where the virus is more acute."

In the letter, Allison touts that employees with company-owned stores will receive paid sick leave. "As the single largest owner of Domino’s stores in the United States, we will be expanding paid leave for full and part-time hourly employees of our company-owned stores and supply chain centers during this outbreak. All employees who are unwell are asked to stay home. Those with any possible exposure to the virus and in need of quarantine are also asked to stay home and will be paid," Allison writes. 

Allison doesn't mention, however, that less than 350 of Domino's 6,000 stores in the US are company-owned. Two of the Domino's workers in the United States that contacted Popular Information report they will receive two weeks of paid sick leave with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. The rest report receiving no paid sick leave at all, which incentivizes them to work even if they aren't feeling well. 

The Domino's spokesperson said, "many [Domino's] franchisees are providing a variety of benefits and other measures to support their store teams," but "franchisees are independent business owners and we cannot dictate the compensation or benefits they offer their employees." There is no easy way for a customer to ascertain whether or not their local Domino's is owned by the company or a franchisee.

Allison also notes that Domino's offers "contactless delivery," where the pizza is left on the doorstep, allowing the driver and customer to maintain social distance. But this is being offered as an option to customers. Domino's workers report that many customers continue to pay in cash, exposing the drivers to unnecessary risk.

Workers within Domino's stores report that the cramped conditions make it impossible to maintain social distance. A driver in the UK describes the situation:

There are 40 drivers all stuck outside after deliveries and not allowed to wash hands. There are over 10 people in a 12-foot area in store with no social distancing whatsoever! They are trying to cover their backs. Some stores have even boarded up their windows to stop people seeing how many staff are in the stores. 

The spokesperson said Domino's is "strongly encouraging all franchisees to adopt full contactless delivery and carryout." Domino's has "recommended a number of operating procedures to increase social distancing in stores, including indicating with tape safe work area perimeters in the store." But, the spokesperson said, "all store layouts are different and will have varying procedures." 

None of the 26 Domino's workers who contacted Popular Information report receiving hazard pay. Many Domino's staff report working for minimum wage and, in general, drivers report that tips are down. While some are tipping more generously, contactless delivery has increased the number of customers that don't leave a tip at all. 

The spokesperson said that Domino's workers at company-owned stores and in their supply chain had received an unspecified amount of "additional thank you pay." In 2018, Allison received $9,102,416 in total compensation

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut says the company is "putting new procedures in place—and doubling down on others—to meet the changing demands of customers during this critical time." Specifically, the company says it is "[d]oubling down on industry-leading and longstanding sanitization and handwashing procedures."

Of the 13 Pizza Hut workers who communicated with Popular Information, one cook in North Carolina reported receiving gloves, hand sanitizer, and masks. The rest reported receiving no additional equipment. (Gloves have always been provided.)

"I’m in contact with delivery drivers all day. I worry i’m going to get infected and infect my family," a cook in New York told Popular Information, "This situation is ridiculous and I’m afraid to go to work." 

A Pizza Hut spokesperson told Popular Information that the company "has authorized the use of non-surgical masks by our restaurant team members" and "purchased a supply of masks and are working to deploy them to restaurant employees around the country."

Three Pizza Hut workers told Popular Information they worked in states where paid sick leave is required by law. The rest did not receive paid sick leave. A cook in North Carolina is worried about their safety but not able to take time off because their location is understaffed. "I’ve been working for almost two years and I still get paid minimum wage. I love working there and making pizzas for the most part. But I’m wary about the delivery drivers going in and out of the store coming in contact with people across the city....I have to come home to family after work. I can’t really take time off because there’s only one other cook," they said. 

Pizza Hut's spokesperson told Popular Information that it "is paying employees at company-owned restaurants who are required to self-quarantine." But Pizza Hut has over 18,000 locations worldwide, and most are controlled by franchisees. "[P]aid sick leave policies are implemented and managed by individual franchisees and vary from business to business," the spokesperson said.

Pizza Hut is also offering contactless delivery. But like Domino's, it is optional for customers. One Pizza Hut general manager wanted to require contactless delivery for all orders, but the company won't allow it. "Me and my whole crew are constantly exposed and the only efforts we can make are to protect the customers. I want to stop taking cash and the company won't let me. I'd love to shut down the lobby and only do contactless delivery but since it would lose the company money it's not allowed," they said. 

The Pizza Hut spokesperson said that "the rate of orders placed with contactless delivery has nearly doubled" in the past week. But, the spokesperson said, "some customers still choose to pay in cash," and "it’s critical that all of our customers have access to a safe, fast, and reliable meal."

No Pizza Hut worker reported receiving hazard pay. Greg Creed, the CEO of Yum, Pizza Hut's parent company, received $13,985,690 in total compensation in 2018. 

Papa John's

In a March 13 letter, Papa John's CEO Rob Lynch wrote that "we are doing everything that we can to protect the wellbeing of our Papa John’s team members, all of our customers and everyone in the communities that we serve." 

Lynch said the company is "equipping our delivery drivers with sanitation kits for use before, during, after, and in-between deliveries." Six Papa John's drivers told Popular Information last week that they had not received a "sanitation kit" or any other protective equipment. 

Papa John's spokesperson told Popular Information that the company "provided delivery drivers in our corporate restaurants with sanitation kits and recommended [that] our independently owned and operated franchise restaurants do the same." Just 621 of Papa John's 3,296  locations in North America are company-owned.

Lynch also wrote that "team members who are feeling or exhibiting any illness symptoms are required to stay home, or, if already at the restaurant, will be sent home immediately." But eight Papa John's workers all said they receive no paid sick leave. So workers who don't show up for their shift will not get paid. 

Papa John's spokesperson said it was the company's policy to "grant paid time off to corporate team members financially impacted by the closure of a restaurant or facility due to an unforeseen crisis or by their inability to work because of a Company mandated quarantine or isolation period." This would not cover someone sent home because they were feeling or exhibiting signs of illness. Franchisees, meanwhile, "make their own policies as they are independently run businesses." 

A Papa John's driver in Louisiana was told the company was not considering hazard pay because of "how many new applications they were receiving." The driver reported there was not appropriate social distancing inside the store or at customer locations and decided to take an unpaid leave of absence.

Papa John's offers contactless delivery, but it is optional for customers. "We have transitioned to No Contact delivery as the default delivery selection on mobile and web ordering so we can protect both our customers and our team members," Papa John's spokesperson told Popular Information.

In 2019, Lynch received a $3 million bonus to sign as Papa John's CEO. He will be paid $900,000 annually. 

Photo credit: Alan Hardman

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