Moral Low Ground


McDonald’s Advises Poverty-Wage Workers to Sell Christmas Presents, Break Food Into Smaller Pieces

McDonald's workers protest their poverty wages. (Photo: Kara Newhouse/Flickr Creative  Commons)

McDonald’s workers protest their poverty wages. (Photo: Kara Newhouse/Flickr Creative Commons)

McDonald’s is advising its poverty-wage employees to break their food into smaller pieces in order to feel more full and to sell Christmas presents for sorely needed extra cash.

Alternet reports the fast-food giant made these and other recommendations on the employee-only McResources website. In a video produced by the advocacy group Low Pay Is Not OK, McDonald’s recommends “breaking food into pieces” to feel more full when eating less, taking vacations (which minimum wage workers, many toiling away at multiple jobs, most likely can only dream about) to reduce stress and the risk of a heart attack, and returning or selling unwanted holiday gifts for “quick cash.” It also advises employees to “sing away stress.”

Raw Story reports a Low Pay Is Not OK activist released an audio recording of 10-year McDonald’s employee Nancy Salgado calling McResources to seek assistance, only to be told she should go to a food bank or apply for welfare.

“McDonald’s doesn’t want to pay its employees more,” reads a caption at the end of the Low Pay Is Not OK video. “It wants you to pay its workers more.”

McDonald’s responded by claiming the video is “not an accurate portrayal of the resource line” and is “very obviously edited.” But four months ago, the company made headlines after it partnered with credit giant Visa to launch a website advising the chain’s low-wage workers how to survive on their meager earnings. The McDonald’s-Visa Practical Money Skills for Life™ site contained a controversial ‘sample employee budget’ in which workers were told to get second jobs to make ends meet. It also originally budgeted $0 for monthly heating bills and just $20 for health insurance.

Last year, McDonald’s then-CEO Jim Skinner made $8.75 million. Meanwhile, McDonald’s employee Tyree Johnson, who has been with the company for 20 years, was earning $8.25 an hour– minimum wage in Illinois– working at two Chicago-area restaurants. Johnson would have to work a million hours, or 114 years, to match Skinner’s salary. This, in a company in which profits soared 135 percent in a recent four-year period. McDonald’s paid out $6 billion in dividends and stock buybacks last year, the equivalent of $14,286 per employee. That’s almost exactly the same amount as a minimum wage McDonald’s employee working full time, with 2 weeks off per year, would earn annually.

Last month, economists at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois released a report showing that half of fast-food industry workers rely on some form of government assistance, costing taxpayers roughly $7 billion annually.

“Low wages paid by employers in the fast-food industry create especially acute problems for the families of workers in the industry,” the report states. “Median pay for core front-line fast-food jobs is $8.69 an hour, with many jobs paying at or near minimum wage. Benefits are also scarce… and many of the families of fast-food workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs to make ends meet.”

The UC/UI report was released around the same time as a National Employment Law Project study that found McDonald’s alone is responsible for $1.2 billion in taxpayer-funded assistance for low-wage workers.

“The fast-food industry is marked by two extremes,” the study’s authors wrote. “One the one hand, the leading companies in the industry earn billions in profits each year, award chief executives generous compensation packages, and regularly distribute substantial amounts of money in the form of dividends and share buybacks.”

“At the same time, the overwhelming share of jobs in the fast-food industry pay low wages that force millions of workers to rely on public assistance in order to afford health care, food, and other basic necessities.”

It’s not just the fast-food industry that pays so many of its workers poverty wages. When it comes to making shocking headlines about poor employee compensation, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is arguably number one. Earlier this week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that a Walmart in Canton, Ohio set out collection bins for employees to donate food so that needy coworkers might enjoy a decent Thanksgiving dinner.

 Both Walmart and numerous fast-food corporations have been the targets of recent strikes by employees seeking better wages and working conditions. This past summer, thousands of fast-food workers across America staged strikes demanding a doubling of their pay to $15/hour and the right to unionize. The idea of a $15 minimum wage has gained traction in many areas; in the Seattle suburb of Sea-Tac, a ballot measure establishing the nation’s first $15 minimum wage currently enjoys a narrow lead in the polls. In Seattle proper, Socialist reformer Kshama Sawant was elected to the city council earlier this month. Her biggest campaign issue was raising the city’s minimum wage to $15.

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