I had written a previous entry about why some people aren’t returning to work. In that entry, the main focus was on external sources of abuse, such as horrible and childish abuse behavior on the part of the customers and general public.
This entry is going to focus more on the internal problem of abuse, as well as one other point, which I will name and detail near the end.
IS FAST FOOD WORK AN ADULT JOB?
In the early 90s, people were hurting and looking for work. The jobs just weren’t there for many. In an effort to prove the public wrong, Vice President Dan Quayle stood outside of a fast food restaurant with a “Help Wanted” sign, so that he could point to it and tell people they were wrong; that there are jobs out there.
Much like today, the conversation around fast food restaurants is that these are actual jobs. Yes, you work, and technically you get paid, so it’s sort of a job.
Here’s the problem:
When the businesses are struggling, they call it a job. But when the worker is struggling, and they ask for a dignified adult living wage, they get told, “Working at McDonald’s isn’t a ‘real job.’ It’s something that high school kids do to get work experience, so they can go get a job elsewhere.”
So, is it a job, or is it not?
Since it does not pay a dignified adult living wage, I am going to say that it is not. Every American adult who works at least 40 hours per week — and you can bet that many at McDonald’s are working more like 70 hours — must be able to pay their rent, food, transportation, medical, etc.
No, I am not saying that they should be paid big bucks, or that they need to have mansion or Mercedes money. That’s another flawed argument known as the false dichotomy. The idea here is that you’re either making almost nothing, or you’re earning millions.
It’s flawed because it’s not realistic. Between the super-poor and the super-rich is a HUGE area wherein most of us live.
Being at McDonald’s is work. However, it is not a job. A job is where a person is actually paid and treated with dignity. You won’t get either of those in fast food, and I’m not talking about the customers this time.
MY EXPERIENCE AT MCDONALD’S IN 1986
When I moved to Bakersfield, California on January 1, 1986, my sister landed me a job at McDonald’s within 3 days.
This was impressive to some friends I’d talked with in Indiana after I got there. One person said, “Wow, you must know somebody.” This is because of how it was when we high school kids tried to get work at McDonald’s. I once applied and waited NINE MONTHS for a response. I had an “interview” where they told me that interviews are backed up by nine months because so many people were applying.
This speaks volumes about the horrific condition of the economy in the area where I lived. Grown adults fighting over a McDonald’s job.
This lead me to think that maybe I’ll be able to earn enough to live an adult life, or maybe there was room for advancement. I was dead wrong on both counts.
1986 California minimum wage at the time was $3.35 per hour. That is where I started. They pay every two weeks, but hold back two weeks. Due to the timing of when I was hired, I ended up working for one full month before I saw one penny of pay.
After two months, they gave me the designation of “Swing Manager” and my pay went up to $3.75 per hour. However, they would not “certify” me. If I were a Certified Swing Manager, then I would have gotten $3.85 per hour. As it turns out, this multi-billion dollar company just couldn’t find the wherewithall to get me that extra ten cents per hour for my efforts.
I was shocked to learn how much the Store Manager was making. One day I had an idea of how to do something better, so I brought it up. The Store Manager told me, “Don’t you worry about those details. I’ll figure it out. That’s why I get the big bucks. $4.25 per hour.”
That’s “big bucks?” Alrighty, then.
ABUSE OF THE RELIABLE
People I worked with at McDonald’s quickly figured out that I was highly-reliable. I chalk this up to my Autism, although I would not find out that I was Autistic until almost 32 years later.
This meant that I would often times be called to open. The phone would ring at 2:30am and my mother would answer. She would wake me up to tell me that I was needed to open the place.
I’d work 12+ hours, mostly averaging 18 hours. Then, sometimes they’d ask me to CLOSE, too. This came with the promise that someone else would be opening up the next day. This, of course, was a lie, and I would be called the next day to open.
This resulted in my entire life being all about working there, and nothing else. And I wasn’t really getting paid much for this sacrifice.
A LACK OF TRAINING: BISCUIT TIME
1986 was the year that McDonald’s began to offer their breakfast biscuit sandwiches. This required training on how to make the folded eggs and circular bacon. This training was done in the back at the grill, so that was cool.
But there was this biscuit machine. It had a digital display and there was a mix to be used. Biscuit training was to be held at another location. They had that training during the day, so I held down the grill while others who worked in the back attended.
I protested this, citing that I was always asked to open. They told me it would not be a problem. Someone else will open, I’ll get the training, and everything will be fine.
I did not believe them. 2:30am the next day confirmed this. My manager told me, “Don’t worry about the biscuits. I’ll be there an hour after opening [6:00am] and will be making biscuits.”
We needed biscuits at 5:00am, but all I could do was go with it, or else.
I get there at 4:00am. I stock all of the freezers and sections myself. I get all of the grills up and going. I get the grease fryers going. I get a cash register up and running. I start making the first round and unlock the doors.
There I am, struggling with the drive-thru AND people at the counter, AND cooking all by myself.
Some people were asking for that “new biscuit thing” that was advertised. I had to then go back, while I was doing everything else, and try to figure out the biscuit machine and mix on-the-spot.
I made some biscuits as best I could. 6:30am, and I am still alone. At this time, I should note that the Ming Avenue McDonald’s in Bakersfield was, at the time, the biggest McDonald’s profit center in all of California.
Eventually, someone else showed up to help at the grill, as well as two others for the counter and drive-thru. Then, the unthinkable happened.
The Regional Manager showed up.
She grabbed a Bacon Egg & Cheese biscuit and took a few bites. She asks who made them, and I tell her that I did. She tells me that something doesn’t seem right.
When I tell her that I was the only one who did NOT get training, that my managers KNEW this, and then I was told that I had to open, she got furious and BLAMED ME for the whole thing.
Never mind the managers who were grossly mismanaging the store. This was all my fault.
My sister was let go because her manager claimed that her drawer was $100 short. Funny how this manager had a new $100 boom box in her area of the break room a few days later.
Her manager basically stole $100 from her, blamed her, fired her, and got away with it.
This same person was doing some shady things with my time card.
The law in California states that anyone who works for 8 hours must have a 30-minute lunch and TWO 10-minute breaks. If I don’t take the breaks, and scan in and out for them, then the company will get in trouble.
What they were doing with me was having me work 18 hours straight, without a break, and then telling me that I have to STAY AFTER for another 50 minutes to clock in and out for all of my breaks.
I actually did it for a few days, until I got tired of giving them almost one free hour of work to cover up their transgressions. So I told my manager that I refused.
She responded by taking MY MAGNETIC TIME CARD, and scanning it for my breaks WHILE I WAS WORKING.
But she screwed up a bit, forgot a scan, and it reversed everything. This messed up my hours.
NOT GETTING PAID
For the many hours that I was working, I quickly got an idea of what my check should look like. But one payday after my manager’s mess-up, my check was significantly smaller.
I complained to my Store Manager, and he told me to calm down and sit in a booth in the customer area.
He and the Swing Manager came over to the booth with a BIG print-out that was representative of payroll. It came from a 24-pin dot matrix printer in a HUGE stack.
They plop it down on the table and tell me, “It’s YOUR problem, so YOU figure it out.” I had never seen anything like this in my life. I didn’t understand the codes next to the numbers, so I had no real way of figuring this out.
Still, I had to make things right. I had a plan, and it involved swimming trunks and a white t-shirt.
MY GRAND EXIT
Every day I would wear swimming trunks and a white t-shirt underneath my McDonald’s uniform. I would work, and I would wait for my perfect opportunity to unleash my plan.
The “lunch rush” at this particular McDonald’s was nothing short of overwhelming. At the time, Bakersfield was the fastest growing city in the entire nation, with 5,000 new people moving into town each month. So to say that it was busy would be an understatement.
Then, one day, the perfect storm hit. I was working on the grill by myself during the lunch rush, which is something that nobody else has been able to do. A Grill Master making 10:1 burgers might engage a “12-turn-lay” approach. But for me, I was doing a “24-sear-lay” technique. The hard part about this is having the buns ready. But I digress.
Not only am I working alone at the grill on lunch hour, but NINE tour busses park in the parking lot. These busses are full of Asian tourists who are probably riding longways across the state.
This was my chance.
I walked out from behind the grill, to the cash register area, and took off my uniform. My Swing Manager looked at me in horror. The Store Manager was not there, because he gets a whole $4.25 per hour.
“What are you doing?” she yelled. I threw my paper hat on the ground and replied, “That’s it. You broke me. You win. I quit.”
The lobby is filled to the brim with people waiting to order. There is a line out both sides of the building. It was chaos, and I was expected to be the only person cooking for all of these people.
She panics, “You can’t leave now! We have the lunch rush AND tourists! What are we going to do without you?”
Yes. This was it. Exactly as I thought.
I smiled and replied, “I don’t know. It’s YOUR problem. YOU figure it out.”
And then I left. I would later take what little money I had saved up and move to Los Angeles to pursue a music career.
I think it would be fair to say that McDonald’s and other companies like this have learned nothing over the decades. They abuse their workers physically, psychologically, and financially. This abuse never stops. Some franchises might be worse than others, but they’re all bad.
Now they’re whining that nobody wants to work there. Gee, I wonder why.
They are currently working on replacing all cashiers with Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Last I’ve heard, that is not going well.
Although I’ve not worked at McDonald’s or a place like this since 1986, I really suspect that it has gotten worse.
THAT “SOMETHING ELSE”
Now that I’ve given my anecdotal evidence of abuse at McDonald’s, and I’d be willing to bet there are way more stories out there, it’s time to consider another factor in the issue of why people won’t go back to jobs like this.
Yes, there’s the physical, emotional, and financial abuse. Yes, it’s true, that working here will NOT pay your rent. I was not offered medical insurance at the time, even though I worked full-time. Yes, there are abusive and shifty managers. Yes, there are abusive and sometimes deadly customers, and this aspect has gotten worse, thanks to our previous “president” normalizing selfish and childish violent behavior.
It’s basically killing yourself so that someone else can get rich, while you have to make hard decisions between paying rent, buying food, getting medicine, or getting a bus ticket.
What you get in return is the illusion that you’re getting somewhere, because you’re physically exhausted at the end of each day. You’re still broke, but people will say, “It’s better than nothing.”
But then, the pandemic happened.
This woke people up.
IN THE END
Life is too short to continue suffering this type of abuse.
In life, we often times get wrapped into a cycle of something, in this case it is work, and we might continue that cycle without ever stopping to really think about it.
When people step away from an abusive situation like this for an extended period of time, it becomes difficult to consider returning to it. People also find other ways, other things. Some are starting businesses. Others are finding more creative ways to make at least what they were making at McDonald’s, but without the abuse and effort.
One would expect the richest and self-declared “Greatest country in the world” could be capable of offering jobs that pay a dignified adult living wage. “It’s better than nothing” has become the working person’s mantra in recent years, which is not representative of a “great” country.
Thanks to COVID-19 and people dying, it got people to realize that life is way too short to be wasting it slaving for someone who is abusive and only technically pays you.
Life is too short to keep doing what we were doing, as we were doing it.
Fear can keep someone where they are. The fear of losing your job is real. I’ve lost many, many jobs over the course of my life. While there were a few times where it was warranted, most of the time it was petty. Sometimes it was illegal.
But then people found something bigger to fear.
Jeff Bezos says that humans are “inherently lazy.” If the pandemic has done anything positive, then it has proven him to be wrong. Yes, the number of people not returning to work or quitting their jobs is big. Many more are expected to quit in the coming months.
To suggest that they’re being lazy and sitting on their asses all day is a fool’s declaration. They’re finding other things to do. They’re gaining knowledge. They’re getting both formal and informal educations.
They are reimagining their own lives, including how they live and what they do for work.
Meanwhile, I’m struggling to get even a rejection letter out of potential employers. No, I’m not applying at McDonald’s. I have no confidence that they’ve done anything to fix their problems, and suspect that they’ve gotten worse over the past 32 years.
There are many reasons why I don’t get responses. I’m an old, white, straight male. I don’t tick any of the affirmative action hires. I’m not young and cool. I don’t fit in with the American “culture of youth.” I’ve not had any substantial work for the past five years, and this gap makes prospective employers view me as lazy. I will test positive for Cannabis on a drug test, and I neither advocate for OR practice using Cannabis while on the clock. I have too much experience, which makes me look expensive.
It’s not just me. Autistic adults enjoy a 90% unemployment rate. That’s bigger than any other group. I won’t let that stop me, and I’ll keep trying until I die. I’ll have to work until I die, since I have nothing except what is in my pocket or the bank right now. No retirement, 401k, or other luxuries that are required to retire.
No, retirement is a luxury; a dream. And I’m not alone. Most people who are 40 years old also have nothing in the way of retirement.
There will be people who say, “You should have planned for retirement.” While it would have been nice to sock a bit away, it never really worked out that way for me. I needed all of my money RIGHT THEN to survive. And since I never had steady employment for longer than 5.5 years, with an average of 2-3 years between jobs, saving up simply wasn’t an option for me.
This is the case for many Autistic adults, as well as people who are struggling as they work while getting paid slave wages.
The bottom line is that the world is a vastly different place now. The majority of people out there now know how I have felt for my entire life. They have social anxiety now. They may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. People have lost homes, money, everything.
To them, it’s a disaster.
To me, it’s just another day of survival.
Survival sucks. I’d much rather LIVE and get to enjoy life more.
No matter what happens, the world will not return to what it was before. I, for one, am happy that this statement is backed up with observable facts.
I don’t want the world to go back to what it was before. It sucked hard.
What I want is a better world.
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