A few years back, I worked in a fast food restaurant. It was an eye-opening
experience and one of the worst jobs I have ever had. The burning of
fingers from grease, the yelling of managers at fellow workers and myself,
to produce more, to produce better, to produce quicker. Yet when we did do
those things, it really didn't affect our well-being. Four bucks an hour is
what we received for our labor.
And I would look around each day, at all the things we made. Hamburgers,
fries, apple pies - five bucks here, five bucks there, the register fills
up with money. Lots of money. Really, tons of money. The owners of the
restaurant surely made some major dollars off of our cheap labor.
"But that is the system," they said to me. "And of course, Cameron, you are
just a student. And most who make the minimum wage are rich high school
students like yourself, who really don't need more cash." Most of my
coworkers were in their late 20s and 30s, working two or three jobs just to
get by, at the crappy wage level that a fast food restaurant will pay. They
had no hope, really, of going to college.
I was the privileged one out of my coworkers. I was to go on to college,
to read, write, study, raise hell ... and they would continue, six bucks an
hour, 40 hours a week. ...
According to the Economic Policy Institute, 71 percent of the people who
got a raise during the last minimum wage increase were adults. But really,
the facts don't really matter to some - a rich white guy can get on TV or
in the newspaper, and represent some business think tank group up in D.C.,
and say, "If we raise wages for the poor, we are going to eventually have
socialism in this country."
During that summer at McDonald's, I saw how well the owner was doing. His
son and his daughter drove luxury automobiles, one a new Ford Mustang, the
other a new Chevy Blazer. They lived in a $500,000 home in the nice part of
town, complete with swimming pool and tens of acres. And during the summer
I worked there, I remember them discussing their new purchase - a $300,000
beach home at Myrtle Beach.
Wow, if only we lowly workers worked really hard, we'll get that one
If we will only lift ourselves up by the bootstraps ... Let's stop the BS
on this. My coworkers, no matter how hard they worked at Micky D's -
statistically speaking - will never have the luxuries that our boss had. It
just won't happen. In order for my boss to have the nice house, the nice
cars (did I mention the $80,000 Lexus my boss drove?), he (and most of the
bosses are men) must keep the wages down for the workers. Thus, while my
coworker Rebecca struggled to put food on the table for her two children,
and was scared to death about getting sick, Mr. Boss Man was living the
I could kick myself now days for not trying to organize my fellow workers
into a union. Mr. Boss could have refrained from buying as many luxuries
and new restaurants (he had a habit of buying up all the other McDonald's
restaurants around us) and afforded to given better wages and other rights
to us - but only if we had collectively demanded it. They could have
deserved the respect, which they didn't get, from the boss. If we had been
organized, if we had been union, then the boss would had to have respected
Today when I go to lunch in Smokey's or Rocky Top Café, my anger burns when
I see an uppity Aramark boss yell at a worker, who looks to me like they
are doing a pretty good job - or when I hear of abuses occuring to other
workers of this big employer, the University of Tennessee. Anger filled me
when I talked to a janitor who used to work for UT until they fired her and
her other coworkers, back in the early 1990s - in order to save money. My
friend Dolores found it hard to not cry, as we talked a few months back.
She remembered how she was only a few years away from retirement, when the
university let her go. "They threw me on the street, and I had nothing,"
she recounted. Now she spends her days, with no retirement besides social
security, cleaning suburban houses.
Hmmm ... wonder what former UT President Joe Johnson's retirement like?
Wonder if he has to clean houses to subsidize his social security?
Opinion: Organized unions can force bosses to do better
From the series UNTITLED COLUMN by Cameron Brooks
Wed Oct 06, 1999 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 01:58 p.m.