Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Trying newbies at McDonald's, subject of the latest wage wars

Posted By on Wed, Aug 14, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder

As you may know, thousands of fast-food workers across the country have taken to the streets to protest their starvation wages.

Last month, McDonald's accidentally admitted that their employees cannot live on their earnings. Teaming up with VISA, the company revised a handy-dandy guide to budgeting for its mainly minimum-wage employees. (The earlier version allocated $0 per month for heating.) Only problem is that the budget still requires you to hold two jobs and does not account for gas or food. Hilariously, it allocates $20 to health insurance. Seriously.

Last weekend, I decided to visit a McDonald's. I hadn't eaten there since my morbidly curious investigation of the McRib about a year ago. Besides my curiosity about the effect of the protests on local workers for Ronald, I wanted to try the Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder (610 calories) and the Dulce de Leche Milkshake (12 ounces, 580 calories), with fries (medium, 380 calories). Yeah, yeah. I coulda got a 90-calorie salad. But I didn't have breakfast that day, so I deserved a 1570-calorie lunch.

I cannot eat it

I can honestly say that the burger was one of the worst things I have ever put in my generally charitable mouth. I'm not a fan of ranch dressing. I know it's everyone else's addiction, but this was so awful, it startled me. I opened the bun to see if there might be a cockroach or pureed garbage atop the gray patty. Nope. I took another bite. Same dreadful flavor, although I was surprised by the pleasant after-burn of the habaneros. I thrust the thing aside. No eat. Not even the proudly apple-smoked bacon.

The Dulce de Leche Shake, which is only available through Sept. 15, was unbelievably sweet. Despite the 580 calories for a small one, it's made with Mickey D's low-fat vanilla ice cream stuff. The whipped cream topping was garnished with a once-genteel maraschino cherrry, as if it needed any added sweetness. If you'd like to submerge your head in a vat of melted Kraft caramels and impersonate a candied apple, you'll love this. I actually gave all but a few sips to a homeless man in the parking lot. He concurred that the sweetness was astounding. But I've tasted worse.

I still like the fries. Julia Child praised them as "surprisingly good" in 1973 to Time magazine but complained in 1995 that the company had turned them "limp" by switching from tallow fat to a "nutritious" frying oil. Mine weren't limp. Julia would be loving them.

Now, back to my primary reason for visiting Maison Ronald.

Midgets protesting McDonalds, 2010
  • David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons
  • Midgets protesting McDonald's, 2010

Whispers behind the counter

"Do you support the protests against McDonald's?" I asked the woman at the counter while I was ordering my food.

She looked around, bent over the counter and whispered, "Of course."

When I ordered my milkshake, I asked another employee the same question.

"Nooooo," she said, laughing. "I'd never support reasonable pay."

I returned to my table, behind a pillar and out of sight, not far from a man on his laptop. You get free wifi, faster than Starbucks' for sure, at most McDonald's.

I'd obviously started a discussion behind the counter. "Why would that man ask about that?" one woman said several times. "They ain't gonna pay us nothing."

"They know they can replace us with no trouble," a man said, turning to take a drive-up order. "It's better to be quiet."

"They're like our own cheap customers," someone else said. "They don't want to spend any money."

The Guardian explains why protests have finally erupted among underpaid fast-food workers:

Though the US stock market is reaching historic highs, the share of the population in work is near a three-decade low. More than half the 162,000 new jobs recorded in July's jobs report were in low-wage industries. It's a situation, say economists, in which unemployment appears to be falling, but the reality is that the jobs being created are either part-time and offer no benefits or are so poorly paid they require an additional job or government assistance. The middle class is being not so much squeezed as suffocated.

"The five largest employers in the US, including Walmart and McDonald's, all pay minimum wage, or close to it," says [Professor John} Mason. "They only succeed in this strategy because they're massively subsidised by the government through food stamps and Medicare." When the US emerged from recession in the early 90s, members of Generation X were locked angrily into "McJobs". Now those same jobs are filled with older, better-educated workers, many trying to support families. It's those workers in "poverty-wage" employment who are pressing for reform, says Jonathan Westin, director of Fast Food Forward. "Many have been pushed out of well-paying jobs and found themselves in the fast food industry struggling to get by," he says. "It's not teenagers working for pocket money, it's mothers and fathers."

(You also might want to check out the website for Fast Food Forward, the NY organization heading up protests there.)

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