The ability to earn a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is something America promises its citizens. The government has instituted many labor laws such as federal and state minimum wage to insure that for working Americans. Then why do many “all-American” corporations such as McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC continue to try to find ways to get around paying their workers for hours worked? These companies take advantage of their already low paid workers need for their job and ignorance of legal labor rights by having them work off the clock, while rewarding their lower level management with bonuses for meeting labor cost budgets. This practice seems very similar to wealthy land owners rewarding their overseers for higher crop production at the expense of the slaves.
According to Eric Schlosser in his book, “Fast Food Nation” chapter 3, pages 74-75, “The fast food chains often reward managers who keep their labor costs low, a practice that often leads to abuses. In 1997 a jury in Washington State found that Taco Bell had systematically coerced its crew members into working off the clock in order to avoid paying them overtime. The bonuses of Taco Bell restaurant managers were tied to their success at cutting labor costs. The managers had devised a number of creative ways to do so. Workers were forced to wait until things got busy at a restaurant before officially starting their shifts. They were forced to work without pay after their shifts ended. They were forced to clean restaurants on their own time. And they were sometimes compensated with food, not wages. Many of the workers involved were minors and recent immigrants.” This quote is just another example of how so many American companies who want you to spend your money on their products and services portray themselves as a wholesome all American brand when behind the scenes their corporate agenda goes against everything America stands for. We abolished slavery yet it seems to be going on at your local burger, taco and pizza joint everyday. The labor laws were passed to protect the average, everyday employee from the giant corporate monster who will stop at nothing to gain a profit. The giant is now even willing to reward middle management with some scraps off their table of profits if they continue to find “creative”, in other words illegal ways to keep the tiny cogs of the corporate money machine grinding away. As stated above most victims of these crimes were the young, naïve and inexperienced minors or the dependant, desperate immigrants often ignorant to their rights as employees. Another example of the strong preying on the weak and the rich using the poor to get richer, something I thought America was sternly against. Every American is guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but I guess that doesn’t apply if you’re on fries at McDonalds or making Chalupas at Taco Bell.
Even though I have never worked in a fast food restaurant, I have worked in the food industry for over 12 years. I started working in a TGI Fridays restaurant in Rockville Centre, Long Island in 1996 as a busboy and host, eventually working my way up to being a server and bartender. Like most companies the managers were always concerned about labor costs and looking for ways to cut them all the time because the lower the labor costs, the higher their bonuses would be. Overtime was discouraged if not completely forbidden. Managers always wanted the least amount of people clocked in at all times. The walls of all TGI Friday restaurants have Tiffany glass and lights along with many items of memorabilia, pictures, ads, and other assorted junk. These items need to be dusted and cleaned regularly. Rather than pay a cleaning crew to do the cleaning, the managers have what they call “beautification “nights. Basically I along with all the other front of the house employees; servers, hosts, busboys, and bartenders had to come in one night once the restaurant had closed and spend one to two hours dusting and cleaning the walls and decorations. The problem is that we never got paid for the time we spent cleaning. The mangers would bring pizza and soda for us to eat while we cleaned but I would have much rather gotten dollars than Dominos. I didn’t argue that point because I did not want to make waves; it seemed to be an unwritten rule among the other employees that it was just something that came along with the job. I was making good money in tips and didn’t want to jeopardize losing my job so I never complained even though looking back what they were doing was illegal. Anytime you are performing work related duties at your job you are supposed to be compensated for it, plus if you are working on your job premises you are supposed to be on the clock so you can be covered for any injury that could happen. I was young and ignorant to these things so I look back and see how similar my situation was to the employees at Taco Bell who were forced to clean restaurants on their own time and sometimes compensated with food not wages. I see why these companies can get away with so many underhanded labor practices when the bulk of their workforce is young and naïve as I once was.