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Sandy Says: Fast Food Frenzy

March 30, 2015
There's something to be said for worker protections.

I'm about to make a statement that is going to enrage at least half of my readers… I support unions.

I have a personal bias; my father was a union organizer and he helped organize the meatpackers in Minnesota. I grew up listening to conversations about about workers' rights, violent strikes, worker safety and government surveillance.

My father was a hard man and well-suited to his job. He was a true believer. In his eyes, unions protected workers.

To me, unions are like our political system: There is a lot of corruption and they are imperfect at best. But they continue to serve as the voice for voiceless workers. If they are obsolete or unnecessary, as many would have us believe, why are we still having conversations about fair wages, fair work hours and safe working conditions?

Recently, a group seeking wages of $15/hour for fast food workers, Fight for $15, launched a campaign against McDonald's. Employees of the fast food giant filed complaints with OSHA in 19 cities. The complaints allege that the workers did not have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE); were not trained; were exposed to slippery, greasy or wet walking surfaces; and were not offered appropriate first aid for injuries, among other complaints.

McDonald's quickly responded, saying that it would investigate the allegations and that it was committed to providing safe working conditions at both its corporate stores and its franchises. The company also pointed out that it believes the complaints are part of a "larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage."

I was a fast food worker for six months in high school. I was paid $4 and some change an hour and dealt with slippery floors, wonky equipment, a soft drink machine that had a short and would shock us if we touched it and vats of hot oil that more than once splattered me and left a blister.

One day I came home and told my father that I had received such a shock from that soda machine that I ended up on my @ss. I thought it was kind of funny. My father did not. He made me accompany him while he quit my job on my behalf, after giving the store manager an earful of invective about workers who have no rights and a profanity-laced lesson in worker safety. I wanted to die of embarrassment, but I will never forget my father's last words to the store manager: "No worker deserves to be hurt on the job."

Two weeks later, one of the other employees received third-degree burns over about 25 percent of his body as a result of an accident involving one of the deep fryers. His life was forever altered by a part-time job paying $4 or so an hour.

While workers in developing nations are fighting to unionize, many people in this country, including legislators and state officials, are doing their best to break the unions.
Every day, a media story appears that focuses on some stupid union demand or on a union official who is fighting for the arbitration rights of a worker who obviously deserves to be terminated. I shake my head like everyone else.

And then I think about the fast food workers who are trying to support their families on a relatively low minimum wage, who are not being trained and who are not being given even the most basic PPE to prevent them from being burned or from cutting themselves. Workers who are being told to put mustard or mayonnaise on a cut or burn because the first aid kit is empty or locked in an office.

Twenty years ago, the compensation of the McDonald's CEO was about 230 times that of a full-time McDonald's worker paid the federal minimum wage. In 2011, then-CEO Jim Skinner earned $8.75 million, or 580 times what the average full-time McDonald's employee earned.

Shareholders have benefited as well; in 2011, the company paid $6 billion for share repurchases and dividends. That's the equivalent of $14,286 per worker employed by the company; arguably much more than many of the company's full-time workers earned that year.

I think McDonald's can afford some gloves and Band-Aids, don't you? Safety is a fundamental right of all workers. No worker deserves to be hurt on the job.

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