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Sacrifices For The Love Of Burgers And Stuff
Published:
12/11/2013 12:28:07 PM


By Barney Blakeney



I love hamburgers, was raised on ‘em. But I’m starting to feel guilty going into fast food joints for burgers and fries.

Last week fast food workers around the country conducted a one day protest to focus attention on the plight of millions of workers - many of whom work for some of the world’s most profitable companies - who aren’t paid enough to afford a decent lifestyle.

Okay, what’s a decent lifestyle? Everything’s relative. For me a decent lifestyle is having food on the table in a comfortable home and having clothes on my back, basic stuff.

I never think about how much the employees make when I’m ordering food at fast food restaurants. I wonder whether the cashier can give me the correct change without the benefit of the computer she uses, but I don’t think about how much she’s paid.

I worked at a McDonald’s restaurant when I was in college. I can’t remember what I was paid. Whatever, it was cool. I lived on campus, so what I earned working went toward my car note and insurance and having some pocket money. I didn’t have to take care of any kids, pay rent or buy food for a family. Heck, I thought I was in hog heaven because I got to eat all the Big Macs I wanted. I remember my friend Cheryl Tindell Denson worked at Burger King one summer. She also was in college, didn’t have kids, didn’t have to pay rent or feed a family.

That was over 40 years ago. I rarely see students employed at those places anymore. Most workers in that industry today are grown folks with responsibilities. I’m sure a lot has changed about that kind of work since I was there, everything except the pay. That’s still low. I’ve been hearing the rumblings for months now about the low wages those workers are paid. It didn’t get my attention until the other day.

Like most folks, I see those people and don’t see them. They’re just the bodies and voices on the other side of the counter. I ask for the service or assistance when necessary and just keep moving on with my life.

I don’t think about how it is to be on your feet for hours at a time constantly moving, doing something because in those jobs there’s no where to sit down on the job. And if you’re caught sitting down on the job, you could lose it. Those gigs are about perpetual movement - and with someone constantly looking over your shoulder!

Working at the local burger hut ain’t no joke. The hours are long and you’re either up early or working late. You’re working the entire time you’re there. You’ll accommodate hundreds of people during your shift.

For many of the workers, there are no benefits. Corporate greed has created a dynamic where most employees don’t get full time jobs so the company doesn’t have to give any benefits. Some companies are so dastardly, they’ll give an employee 35 or 38 hours, just short of the 40 hours needed to qualify as a full time employee. The employee does all the same work with none of the benefits.

I talked to George Hopkins, a co-ordinator of the local protest the other day. He says employees in the industry aren’t the only ones getting shafted. These companies, some of the world’s most profitable, don’t pay their employees much in order to maximize profits. But us taxpayers make up the difference because those employees have to rely on public assistance to survive.

We pay for those employees’ healthcare, food and housing while the fat cats who profit from the low wages they pay get fatter. Hopkins said many others are in the same situation as fast food industry workers.

At Walmart, employees are asked to make donations to fellow low wage co-workers. Rather than pay its employees a decent salary Walmart, a company that earns billions annually in profits, asks it employees to share with each other by donating food and toys. The American public, because it wants everything cheap and fast, is complicit in this diabolical exploitation, Hopkins said. Still American workers who bear the brunt of the consequences actually fare better than many in the system of supply and demand that exploits millions of people around the world, Hopkins notes.

Recently in Bangladesh scores of people died in a sweat shop fire as they produced some of the goods we here in this country treasure so dearly. The human suffering that is a part of the production of stuff we love so much reminds me of American slavery. Compared to what slave workers in other countries endure, I guess American workers have it good.

I don’t know how I’ll console myself having focused in on all that information. As a Black man in America who has experienced exploitation, I feel the pain. But I still love my burgers.

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Submitted By: George Hopkins Submitted: 12/12/2013
A good column on an important issue--but I wouldn't say that these service sector workers "have it good." This isn't Bangladesh. We need to pressure these fast food corporations to provide a "living wage" to their employees--many of whom are African Americans, often single parents working hard for little pay. We also need to pressure Walmart--the largest private employer in the USA. And we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Can we do it? Yes, we can--but it will take sustained effort.


 
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