Much media attention has been paid to the strikes by fast-food workers, and most specifically McDonald’s employees, for higher wages. Those who are profiting from exploitative wages and who are enjoying the benefits of the ever-widening income gap have tried to minimize the public impact of these workers’ efforts to get a livable and fair wage by suggesting that such underpaid work is restricted to certain types of jobs and that dissatisfied workers should simply look for other employment.
This sort of argument—this sort of rationalization of self-interest—ignores any number of startling statistics, which, taken together, suggest that the low-wage jobs in fast-food restaurants are becoming more illustrative of the norm than of a last-ditch alternative for many working-class Americans. The dramatic decline in employment in American manufacturing and the collapse of the construction industry in the Great Recession have led to a shift for large numbers of those workers to the only employment available—in food service, in retail, and in the rapidly expanding system of warehouses that support the food and retail industries, manufacturing, and a broad spectrum of other economic sectors.
By 2020, a third of American workers will be employed contingently: that is, they will be hired by “temp agencies” to work for very low wages and for few if any benefits for all sorts of employers, from local professional offices to the largest international corporations—all of whom are relying increasingly on contingent workers to relentlessly increase profits and drive up stock prices.
The idea used to be that America’s national mission was to make the world more like America. This was generally framed as a noble aim, at least in terms of extending our democratic institutions and our material prosperity to peoples living under political oppression and in endemic impoverishment. Yet, the dark irony is that, as America’s GDP has grown to unprecedented heights, the reality for an ever-increasing percentage of American workers is that we are becoming more like the rest of the world, in terms of income inequality and social injustice.
And anyone who thinks that the topic that is treated in this post has nothing to do with higher education must be completely oblivious to our continued exploitation of adjunct faculty. In fact, what makes that exploitation all the worse is that while we have finally stopped trying to rationalize it as less exploitative than it actually is, we have, instead, seemingly accepted it as an inescapable economic necessity.
I hope that you will consider signing the petition that is described below. Moreover, I hope that you will begin to focus on–or continue to focus on–ways in which our own institutions’ exploitation of contingent, low-wage labor, both among our faculty colleagues and among staff as well, might be mitigated in at least some small ways that, taken together, might start to have a larger impact on how we define the value of all work and how we demonstrate our respect for all workers.
Florence Arnold of Morgantown, North Carolina has posted this petition on Change.org:
Until a few months ago, I worked at Waffle House as a server/salesperson. After a year of working at this popular chain, I was tired of continuously not always receiving minimum wage. We are assumed by Waffle House to make minimum wage between the under $4 dollars an hour we are paid and tips included. I think it’s wrong for a company the size of Waffle House not to pay employees fairly and I hope you’ll join me in calling on them to do better.
As you can imagine, the restaurant is most crowded and makes the most money during the morning breakfast shift. I worked after the breakfast shift and would only work with one or two other employees to keep the restaurant running. That meant that I not only had to wait tables but I also had to cook, clean, be the cashier, dishwasher and serve as a manager on duty by having to always work with employees I was training.
Even though I was doing so many jobs, I was still barely making enough money in tips to cover gas to get to work. For many shifts, I didn’t even make minimum wage. During shifts later in the day, there just weren’t enough customers to produce enough tips to make it to the bare minimum wage. One of the worst parts is that the company puts the blame on employees if they don’t make enough in tips to meet minimum wage. Waffle House prides themselves on being a “billion dollar, debt-free company.”
Eventually, I asked for more morning shifts and a raise so that I could make enough to live on. When I worked at Waffle House, they would often have me work at other locations. I worked in three different Waffle House restaurants in my area and saw the same problems at all of them. I’ve worked for years at a number of different national restaurant chains and I can confidently say that Waffle House was the most unfair.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that Waffle House can do the right thing and pay all of its hard working employees minimum wage. Will you join me and sign my petition?
In striking contrast to Florence Arnold’s description of her working conditions and compensation, here is what is provided under the “Careers” link on the Waffle House’s company web site:
“Being AMERICA’S PLACE TO WORK® means being the best career choice. Waffle House, Inc. and its subsidiaries, each offer a unique career opportunity allowing you to advance your career at a pace based on your performance and ability. The rewards and benefits are many and we believe there is no other wealth building opportunity like this anywhere in America.”
The phrase “wealth building opportunity” seems, at the very least, an overstated promise. But another section of the website is devoted to “Hourly Careers”; so clearly that are broader issues with exactness in diction on this company web site.
Because Waffle House has remained a privately owned company, their revenues and earnings are not as publicly available as those for publicly held corporations. But here are two paragraphs on the company’s size and revenues that may be enlightening:
“Waffle House Inc. is a restaurant chain over 1700 locations found in 25 states in the United States. In 2009, it had revenues of $529 million.
“Annual sales figures are not public, but the company claims to serve two percent of all eggs used in the industry, and is the world’s leading seller of T-bone steaks at over 10,000 per day. Waffle House servers earn around $15 per hour, with all but $2.13 paid by customer’s tips.”
And Florence Arnold is clearly not the only employee who feels exploited. Here is a post to the website Glassdoor, which provides “an inside view of jobs and companies”:
“I have been working at Waffle House for over a year.
Pros: The main pro is the possibility for promotion and is the main reason why I chose this company. There is a clear career path that can be followed. Start as a manager trainee move up to a Unit manager. From there you can become a District Manager and then a division manager. Pay is based on a bonus system which can be good when you hit all of your bonuses. It is a lot of responsibility and can prepare you for a career in many different fields.
Cons: When applying for the manager trainee you will be told an excellent story about being a Unit Manager and how great this position is but the sales pitch is far from the job. In reality, your hours will be from about 6:30 am to 3:30 to 4 pm if everything goes well that day. You work 6 days on and get 2 days off on a rotating schedule. On Friday and Saturday night and the night before your day off you MUST return to the store from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm for drawer change. As a Unit manager you are THE manager meaning that there is not another manager for the 24 hour restaurant except you, unless it is your day off. The manager at waffle house is the primary cook and many times the only cook on weekdays even when the cooking volume might be too much for one person to handle. The bonus plan that i mentioned above is what pushes upper management to treat their employees like slaves. For example, one of the bonuses is based on a target number that you have to be below in order to make this bonus, if you are above this number than you will be required to work at least one double shift ( 6:30 am to 9 pm) and then be back at work the next morning at 6:30 am. Many of the managers when over target do more than one double shift. When you interview you will be told that all managers make 40k to 50k but I find this very hard to believe because of our pay plan and my current pay. It is a ton of hours, stress, staffing nightmares and the most crazy multitasking that you will have ever been forced to do.