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No So Fast, McDonalds

I recall when I was in high school that it was time to seek my first job opportunity and so, following in the footsteps of my brother and sisters, I decided to apply at McDonalds. The first time I applied the store manager asked me the proverbial question: “Why should I hire you?” My response: “Because I need the money.” Wrong answer.

The following year I applied to the same place and this time when asked the same question, I answered, “Because I can get the job done.” Result: hired. I only worked for this particular franchise for one summer because another store, closer to home, was opening, and it was owned by the franchise owners who had employed my siblings. With the small amount of experience I had attained at the previous store, I was actually able to take charge of the rookie grill team and pull order out of chaos. This eventually resulted in my promotion to “swing” manager when I transitioned from high school to college (1981). A “swing” manager is essentially someone who will manage any shift, often times with little or no notice.

Exploitation of my services was the furthest thing from my mind as the goal was to earn enough money to pay for college. My coworkers were all my age with the exception of the “day ladies” who worked the morning shift. The commonly accepted idea was that this was a temporary stepping stone to better career opportunities once you graduated from college. I would certainly agree, however, that my experience at McDonalds allowed me to utilize some of the talents and abilities I possessed by exercising various skills in particular situations. In other words; it wasn’t all just about “flipping hamburgers.” One time the owner of the franchise put his hands on my shoulders, while I was seated, and stated “I want this man paid $4 per hour.” It never happened and I spent the remainder of my time there earning just a smidgen above what the crew earned.

Today we recognize the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred in the fast-food industry over the last 30 years, with most positions being filled by adults rather than their teen-age counterparts. Consequently the industry has transformed from being a “temporary stepping stone” to a full-time career opportunity that still pays very little relative to the profits posted by McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s—now comically referred to as the new “Big Three.” One could argue that there is very little opportunity in our economy for someone with a high school diploma, or perhaps no diploma at all. It could be further argued that economic opportunity has been so slimmed down that these types of retail jobs are the only ones available and it will in all likelihood be that way for a long time to come.

In the meantime people employed by these companies still qualify for public assistance because of the low pay and lack of medical benefits. We also read daily of the failure to teach people to read and write upon graduating college not to mention high school. If this whole situation doesn’t smack of a deliberate and carefully planned booby-trap, then I don’t know what does. Accordingly I am in favor of increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour at restaurants such as McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s, as well as the provision of medical benefits. There is no evidence that doing so will cripple these major chains in any form whatsoever. It may reduce the amount of money flowing into the top of these companies but it is doubtful that it would alter their lifestyles.

Of course there are those who will argue that the price of the food served will increase and result in less business and therefore less employment. But this is the accepted thinking of a outdated paradigm. Even Henry Ford was wise enough to pay his workers more so they could afford to buy his cars, although in this case a diet consisting primarily of fast food has been proven to be unhealthy.

No, the major chains can “afford” to increase the pay of their employees without having to increase the price of it’s food. So let this be written, so let this be done.

- Joe Bialek, Cleveland

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