Last weeks fast food worker strike is another link in a chain that I hope will be used to hang poverty wages and abusive work situations in the public square. I stand in solidarity with those workers not only as a sympathizer, but also as a former fast food worker myself. In this short entry I would like to draw attention to three different experiences that I went through not only as a former employee, but also as the child of a former employee of the industry. My thesis is that these workers deserve their demands because everyday they suffer the effects of poverty wages, lack of benefits/opportunity, and daily disrespect.
I grew up as the only child of a single mother who worked 2-3 fast food jobs every day on minimum wage for more than a decade. During that time the federal minimum wage changed a few times, but my mother and I were never even close to being able to lift ourselves out of poverty. It kills me to listen to the talking heads on TV talk about how unfair it would be to pay workers a living wage. I wonder if they have ever had to stand in a bread line, wait in a dark room at a church for food, or live in a motel that is infamous for housing crackheads. Such was the life for my mother and me for years living on minimum fast food wages. And keep in mind she didn't work just one fast food job… she worked several.
The American dream is supposedly based on the idea that if someone works hard then they can have access to opportunities like an education and/or moving up the proverbial ladder. When someone is not even making enough money to feed and clothe themselves or keep a roof over their head, how can they be expected to pay exorbitant tuition costs? Additionally, what happens when a fast food worker gets sick? The vast majority of mega munch corporations do not provide health insurance or sick days, so when a worker gets sick their financial straights are made even more dire. What about moving up the ladder? For the sake of the illustration let's say that there are an average of 10 employees per fast food restaurant including management. Let's also say that the manager of McDonalds location X has been there for ten years and gets promoted to district manager. Only one of those other nine people is going to get a chance at the promotion and that's assuming the chain doesn't hire from outside. Are those other nine employees—who, again, cannot afford an education or healthcare—going to be able to wait another decade for an opportunity? Even if they do… what about the other seven?
The skeptic may say, "Why don't they get another job?" I would point you again to my mother as an example. She worked from 6:30AM-2PM at her first job before picking me up from school. Then she quickly made me dinner before going to her night job. When did my mother have time to look for another job? "How about her day off?” that same person may ask. Well, for one she needed some sleep. Secondly, due to the poverty wages she was receiving, she also had to spend time in bread lines and church drives so we had enough food and clothes. Poverty wages produce a vicious circle of dependency that keeps people tired, under the poverty line, and without opportunity.
While lack of adequate wages and opportunity are debilitating, very few things are as demoralizing as the disrespect that fast food workers receive only a daily basis. I have firsthand knowledge and have watched my mother suffer the consequences of this as well. Given the fact that fast food work is low wage and no benefit there seems to have developed a social stigma against it. How many of us have stood in line and watched first world privileged people huff and puff because they didn't get their burger in 30 seconds? How many times have you seen a cashier being yelled at because one of the cooks forgot the no pickles request? The aggressors in these situations don't seem to have considered that maybe these people are tired. Maybe like my mom this is their second job that day. Maybe their child is sick at home alone because both their parents had to go to work so they could have the money to pay rent. Maybe their marriage is on the rocks because they don't have enough money for school clothes and their diabetes medicine. I don't think people realize the depths of depravity that people are forced to live in because they are trying to support families on $7.25/hr.
Fast food CEOs are saying that if they grant their employees $15/hr, then they will have to raise prices. Why can't they give some of their salaries? In 2012, James Skinner, the CEO of McDonalds, made over $27M.  Why can't they downsize the advertisement budget? Billions of dollars a year seems a bit exorbitant.  Why can't they slow down their global expansion  How much is enough?
I could go on for days describing my personal knowledge of how poverty wages, lack of opportunity, and daily disrespect can destroy families and stress people into sickness, but my goal is not to make you cry. I simply want you to consider the plight of millions of people who live in poverty so that large mega corporations can pay their executives millions of dollars a year, spend billions of advertising, and buy corporate jets. There are human souls crying out for justice behind those tacky corporate visors. The only thing I would ask of you is to consider my story, my mother's story, and the story of countless millions of oppressed individuals who are kept under the boot heel of corporate greed so you can buy a burger for a dollar and get it in under two minutes. Please support these workers and- for the love of god- please tell them you appreciate them once and a while. You might be surprised how far those two small acts of kindness can go.
My name is Larry Swetman and #ISupportTheStrike.