Fast food has been a part of the American culture since the 1920s. Fast food is always available, whether you do not feel like cooking or are simply looking for a quick bite. In fact, as of 2019, the fast-food industry is worth a staggering 648 billion dollars and on average, Americans consume approximately 50 billion burgers per year.
And while we may be familiar with the different chains and the meals they offer, it seems as though no one ever really stops to think about the workers, who are the backbone of these businesses.
Millions of Americans work at fast-food restaurants nationwide and despite what many may think, the majority of fast-food workers are adults, not teenagers looking to make quick money. It is no secret that a career in fast food is notoriously challenging, as workers often have to deal with a minimum wage salary, angry customers, long shifts and demanding managers.
Despite all the physical strain that comes with the job, fast-food workers are paid ridiculously low wages and are often expected to perform a lot of emotional labor. They put up with abuse from not only customers, but also sometimes their own bosses, who often uphold the heavily criticized “the customer is always right” policy.
I speak from experience, having worked at my local Chick-fil-A, for nearly a year. As it is, Chick-fil-A is considered one of the best fast-food places to work at and yet it still has a turnover rate of 60 percent.
Although this might seem high for any other industry, this is much lower than the national fast-food restaurant turnover rate, which is more than 100 percent. It comes as no surprise that more than 100 percent of the people working in fast-food restaurants eventually end up quitting.
There were plenty of times when my co-workers and I had to deal with entitled and accusatory customers who could not see that they were dealing with actual human beings and not robotic workers devoid of feelings.
On days when we were not feeling our best emotionally or physically, we were still told to smile and act as though we were living out our purpose in life by serving chicken and soda.
Do not get me wrong, many customers were indeed decent people who were eager to receive their meals and be on their merry way. Some even went out of their way to offer us sweets and the occasional tip. Nonetheless, there were plenty of customers who were disrespectful because they felt as though they were dealing with nobodies.
This stigma that fast-food workers are lazy and unproductive is simply outdated and false. The job is physically demanding and often requires one to be on their feet for anywhere from 5 to 14 hours, all for low pay.
Not to mention, dealing with angry, hungry and impatient people on a daily basis has a negative toll on one’s mental health. Research shows that fast-food workers tend to suffer the most from mental health and substance abuse problems.
The threat of being seriously injured while on the job is also high, whether that be from an angry customer, a slippery floor or by hurting yourself while carrying the 50 to 100 pounds that most fast-food employers require their employees to be able to carry regardless of their weight, height and size.
It is easy to turn a blind eye to the maltreatment and abuse that fast-food workers often face. Gone are the days when workers simply “flipped burgers.” There is a reason why fast-food workers have been deemed essential by the government during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
While many white-collar professionals were able to work from home, fast-food workers (including myself) had no other choice but to put on our uniforms, double our masks and hope that we would not contract the virus.
On any given day, my coworkers and I would interact with more than 100 customers while most Americans did not even dare to get close to any other person who was not family. The honest truth is burnout as a service worker and especially as a food service worker, is real. Yet despite all of this, fast-food workers are still treated terribly in our country.
We have to recognize that fast-food workers are human beings who deserve a livable wage. They deserve to be able to feed their families. They deserve time off. The abuse that they are subjected to on a daily basis should not be brushed off as “part of the job.”
While large-scale change might take a while to happen, you can make a difference in the meantime. The next time you visit a fast-food restaurant, I encourage you to imagine yourself in the place of the worker.
Rather than thinking solely about your needs, try to consider the feelings of the human being taking your order. Fast-food workers are more than the businesses they work for. They are valued human beings who deserve just as much respect and dignity as any other individual trying to make ends meet in this country. It is about time we treated them like they too matter.
Vanessa Darkoa is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and minoring in history and education. Her column, "As It Is," runs on alternate Mondays.
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