Fast food employees deserve a living wage

Photo via Anna Waters on Flickr.

Recently I logged on to Facebook and saw the top story on my newsfeed was a video of workers at a McDonald’s in Tampa protesting for a $15 an hour wage. This struck very close to home — I’ve lived in the Tampa area most of my life, and worked at McDonald’s for three years.

I started working at McDonald’s as a junior in high school, fresh faced and excited for my first job. It quickly became more than a job, as the people I worked with every day became my family. I was definitely different than many of them — a white, middle class high school girl. But that didn’t matter. We were all the same there.

Working there taught me so many important lessons, as well as how to be an employee, work with people from diverse backgrounds and balance school and work. Of course there were plenty of difficult days — rude customers, busy drive thru times, and the constant pressure to be fast — but overall, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. My coworkers were amazing people, who all had great stories to tell, were incredibly kind and had great senses of humor. I can’t begin to explain the amount of hilarious things that happened, especially during a 5 a.m. shift.

I worked with immigrants, young mothers, high school and college students, mothers and their daughters, fathers and their sons. I worked with people from as young as 15 to as old as 60. The thing that all of these people had in common? They were good, they were hardworking and they deserved more.

This is why, when I saw the strike on Facebook a couple days ago, I was so affected by it. They weren’t my past coworkers, but they might as well have been. And this is also why I was completely dismayed when I read the comments accompanying the video of the strike:

“This shows how stupid this generation is, you don’t make McDonalds your career. This is a starting job, then you move on to higher paying jobs. You just can’t fix stupid in America.”

“Do they know how silly they look? Go inside and fix the ice cream machine!”

“These jobs were never meant to make a living wage from. They are for high school kids. Get a better education if you want to make more money. Or, join the military, fire department or police department. Oh, that’s right. Then you would actually have to work….”

These comments are nothing new. Ever since the “Fight for 15” has been gaining traction, I’ve viewed the nasty comments from people hiding behind their computer screens. These comments are abundant in news articles and videos about these strikes. Some people think it’s ok to make fun of those who work in fast food or other low-income jobs, because they don’t know these hardworking people.

I get so disheartened when I see comments like, “If you want a better paying job then go back to school and/or college, earn a degree and get a career instead of a job that’s meant for a high schooler.” It’s so easy for people to simply tell others to stop working at a dead-end job and go to school and get a career. However, this is much easier said than done. Many of my coworkers couldn’t go to school, because they don’t have the time or money, as they need to support themselves and their families. Some of my coworkers were putting themselves through school with the money they make at McDonald’s. For some, this was one of the only jobs they could get, and it’s not a bad one. McDonald’s offers decent benefits, flexible hours and the ability to move up in the company.

There is nothing wrong with working at a fast food restaurant, and I don’t understand why some people think it’s so terrible. At least my coworkers had jobs and were trying to do something with their lives. Many of them had more than one job, too. I found it so frustrating when customers treated me or my coworkers like stupid garbage that would never amount to anything when I’m currently attending UCF with a 3.8 GPA and the highest scholarship the school offers.

I’m not saying that fast food workers deserve $15 an hour. I understand that paramedics and some in the military don’t even make $15 an hour. I am saying these workers need more than minimum wage. Minimum wage is not a living wage, unless you think you can live off of less than $20,000 a year. If you make the minimum wage in Florida, $8.05 an hour, and work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you’d make a little over a whopping 16,700 a year — before taxes.

I can say firsthand that working at McDonald’s was exhausting, physically and mentally. It’s a more stressful job than people realize, especially at the store I worked it, as it was one of the fastest and busiest stores in Florida. Dealing with rude customers, keeping the drive thru times low, being on your feet all day and still maintaining a smile was tough, especially on $8 an hour.

I’m not trying to complain or gain sympathy; I’m just trying to stand up for my fellow fast food employees and explain that we are not the scum of the earth many think we are. We are human beings, who deserve a living wage and respect, just like you.

Photo via Anna Waters on Flickr.