I know, these days, between the health nuts, the labor folks and those generally concerned about society our health and the environment, McDonalds is a favorite whipping boy, them and WalMart.
Sorry WalMart, I have nothing good to say about you, except to the extent that some of what I say about McDonalds is true for you.
In 1977, my brother and I went off to Cincinnati to a strange little religious institution called God’s Bible School, which sits atop Mt Auburn at 1810 Young St, and even though there are some pretty ridiculous stories about my time there, I will skip over them except as they relate.
I might well blog about GBS at a future date, but the main thing is we were trying to make a little extra money because we had paid the $1000 or so for tuition and dorm and it included a food card that let us eat three meals a day in the cafeteria. The yankee cooking was so unappealing to us we were starving to death rather than eat it, I weighed 185 when I showed up in august, but weighed 168 when I came home for Christmas. They meant well, but we needed a little pocket money and enough to eat a meal off campus now and then. We worked at a full service Gulf Station at the corner of Reading and Mellish until a dispute with management made us lose our $1.65 per hour jobs, so after a few days we were excited to hear that the downtown McDonalds was hiring, not only did we get minimum wage, we got uniforms (they were the old horrible polyester ones), we got a meal, for free! We got all the soda we wanted, and if we wanted to buy more than the regular hamburger and regular fries, the rest of the menu was half price! We had lots of fun learning how to make Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, we had an accident or two in the kitchen, but no major disasters, and before we left, we got a raise to 1.95!!!!!
Now, when we were working at the gas station, we pumped full serve for 49 cents, and sold cigarettes for 49 cents per pack. A payphone call had just gone up from a dime to 20 cents, soon to hit a quarter. I had bought a worn out Fiat for $400, and spent about that much getting more or less running. One of our special treats on Saturdays, when we weren’t working was to go to the Mt Airy Kmart and in the middle was a little deli/lunch counter and we could get 4 ham and cheese sandwiches for a dollar!
At the time, even though the Carter recession was at its worst, most people I knew that graduated from college at least the engineers I was going to school with before and after my little adventure to the city across the river from Covington, were starting at about $15K, and a good skilled tradesman might be topping out at $15-20K. $7-10 per hour!
But that is my point, even though I do not eat there, nor do I let my son eat there, I did eat there for years, and would probably still enjoy a Big Mac and large box of salty fries, and even though I think they could raise the wages to 11, or even 15 bucks, of course they would have to demand their employees actually work… when I was an employee all those years ago, our managers would send you home if you were standing still or leaning against a counter. If there was “nothing to do” we were instructed to wipe down tables and counters until a manager came along and asked to do something, or until we had the gumption to do something else useful. I have been amazed over the last decade or so to see kids leaning on the counter, chewing bubble gum, talking to each other about personal matters instead of waiting on customers or making food. Admittedly, I have also seen lots of folks working hard. (We quit patronizing them when my son was about 5 and we realized he got tummy aches every time he ate the food. I also sometimes will still drop in to pick up a coffee if I don’t see a Paneras or a Dunkin Donuts I would drink gas station coffee before I would stop at a Starbucks, but again, that’s for another post).
I suppose if you aren’t going to pay a bonus for hard work and you are paying the least allowed by law, you will have a hard time motivating an employee who doesn’t have to have a a job to take their work very seriously. The point is, when I worked at McDonalds, over 90 of the non management people working there were 14-21. It was expected that anybody flipping burgers would either be promoted or would move on to a “real job.”
Today, even though certain things at McDonalds has changed since I worked there, the big change is what has happened around the fast food restaurant, not inside of it! The Proctor and Gamble, the GM plant jobs, the plentiful and pretty well paid plumbers, electricians, and city workers, the mid level white collar positions for the college grad, these jobs have been exported, consolidated, out sourced or something. Today there are still better paying jobs than MickyDs, but as a proportion of the job market, the summer and after school and short term jobs have turned into careers because the next rung up jobs are a lot harder to find. It didn’t matter whether I made a livable wage when I was 18, living in a dorm, with a safe supply of food I didn’t like already paid for, or conversely, if I had worked there when I went back home, I had shelter and better than three squares. The low wages were an incentive to move out and move up, because there was an up to move to.
I am sure some of the Tea Party folks honestly remember their early work experience and think these “kids ought to get aq real job” these “kids” are 30-40 and some retirees trying to get by after all the cuts that seniors have suffered since Reagan. By and large there aren’t “real jobs” or they would be taking them! Should McDonalds take some of their billions in profit and pay the “kids” better? Absolutely!
Does America have a bigger systemic problem than low wages at a big box retailers and fast food joints? Yes! We need to focus on growing good domestic jobs, on small business opportunity, but in the mean time, lets raise the minimum and index it, and raise it for servers at sit down restaurants, too! If you aren’t willing to pay another 50 cents -1.00, make your own dern meal! If you are worried about the money, you should never go out to eat, anyway! If you are going to, do you really want overworked, underpaid folks handling your food, cleaning your table and the restrooms? I don’t! If California thinks happy cows make happy cheese, the certainly humans are no less impacted by working in a secure environment and knowing they are making a livable wage.
Raise the Rates! And fix the System! I still wont eat there, but their longterm survival will be move certain.