In the past 40 years, the world of fast food has penetrated even the remote areas of American society. It was an industry, which had been started by a few hamburgers, and hotdog stalls in California but has now spread all over the nation with a huge number of fast-food items. Nowadays, not only do drive inns and restaurants serve fast food to the customers but they are also found at hospital eateries, gas stations, supermarkets, airplanes, ships, trains, stadiums and even on school and college campuses.
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Paying customers are ever ready to pay hundreds of billions of dollars on fast food and it has been found that Americans are more eager to spend money on fast food than on their cars, computers and even higher education. (Mayhew, 261-284) Thus, we can imagine what a profound effect fast food has had on the people of America.
The underlying changes in the American economy have accelerated the rapid development of the fast-food industry in the nation. During the 1970s, the hourly wage of an American worker had reached its peak and had steadily declined over the years. Even women joined the workforce at that time in huge numbers due to the need of paying their bills and the number has been increasing since. These statistical changes benefited the fast-food industry providing the people with cheap meals that were not made at home and employing young men and women, who needed extra money, at very low salaries.
Eric Schlosser in “The Minimum” says that the American restaurant industry has, in recent times, became the principal private employer of the nation and in Colorado Springs. It has also been one of America’s fastest-growing states, in terms of its population, as from the 1970s its population has increased from about two hundred thousand to five hundred thousand. However, the restaurant industry of the state has grown at a quicker rate. While earlier there were around twenty restaurant chains in the state now McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have twenty individual restaurants there. (Schlosser, 10-14).
Most of the workforce of the fast-food chains consists of teenagers as the baby boom expansion of the 1960s and 1970s among that age group had coincided with the growth of the industry. They were ideally suited for such jobs since they lived with their parents had very little working skills and the wages that were given to them would not have been enough for an adult. The employment terms were also highly flexible and attracted not only teenagers but also homemakers who took such jobs as the first one.
However, with the decline in the baby boomers, the fast food companies also employed the handicapped, immigrants and the elderly. The fast food companies had made available thousands of jobs for the workers and even employed the disadvantaged and poor American people. People who could hardly read and had very disturbed lives acquired basic work skills. However, their attitude towards minimum salary, overtime payments and trade unions indicates their actual selfish motives for employing the less privileged people of the nation.
Most of the companies assert that the operators stick to the company-made minute details regarding things like store designing, purchasing and food preparations. Nevertheless, the company’s policies regarding its labor practices are completely liberal allowing the operators to fix the salaries based on the local labor market. Their elevated turnover rates and peripheral hiring patterns have not only absolved the companies from being directly responsible for a major part of the workforce but have also spoiled the worker’s efforts to form unions.
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Whenever union activities are suspected among the workers, an experienced group of managers is sent to the restaurants to shut them down. They are even forced to sometimes undergo polygraph tests to determine the persons responsible for forming the unions thus, preventing them from acquiring a grip on the business. The workers have even organized strikes for better payment and behavior of the managers but some of the workers were fired when they tried to form a union in the restaurant. (Lee, 75-84).
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, it is mandatory to pay overtime wages to those workers who work more than 40 hours a week. However, most of the workers in the fast food restaurants do not qualify for overtime wages and those who do are seldom paid. Most of the workers are employed as crewmembers and thus, are paid on an hourly basis. They work whenever required at the restaurant and the managers ensure that they work for less than 40 hours a week so that they do not qualify for the overtime wages. Only one or two percent of the workers have a fixed salary along with medical benefits and a fixed employment term. Only they have an opportunity of being promoted but that too after working for a long time at a very low salary. (Øgaard, 23-34).
It is also true that almost a fourth of the total workers in these fast food restaurant industries receive the minimum wage than other industries in America. The years between 1970-90 saw the minimum wage of the workers decline by almost 50%, even though the fast food industry expanded rapidly, and has been decreasing ever since. The daily life of the teenage students who work at fast-food restaurants has changed significantly as they are a lot poorer today and have to work for longer hours after their school. However, they cannot leave their jobs as most of them come from families with low incomes and thus, have to work to support their families and themselves.
As their salaries are very low most of the youngsters work for almost seven hours after attending school thus, getting very little time for their studies. This affects their academic performance gravely. We also have to consider the issue regarding the safety of the employees at their workplace. Although injuries like minor burns from grills, boilers and fryers are very common, there have also been growing incidents of violence in restaurants. The fast food restaurants due to their convenient locations become attractive targets for burglaries. At times even the cashiers and managers are killed by the robbers who run off with their prize money. (Pepper, 249-255)
As fast food companies have high turnover rates, they should promote modern labor policies for the introduction of permanent careers in the fast food industry instead of relying only on low-paid workers. Until and unless the employers provide health benefits, security measures and other such benefits to the workers, they will not look for a permanent career in this industry. The workers not only need job security but also a fun-filled environment in their workplace. The employees who are happy with their jobs will also be the most motivated ones. Rewarding them and awards bring about a feeling of pride and make them feel that the management care about them.
It has been found out that if the minimum wages of the workers were restored to the one that was there during the 1970s, then the cost of a hamburger would not be increased much. The fast food managers also need to be treated as an executive and not made to do chores like cleaning the floors, serving the customers or preparing food, which is the job of their employees. Some of them even work for longer hours than their employees work but are paid less. They are also sometimes forced to do certain unethical tasks, like destroy employee records, and work overtime without pay. (Mayhew, 261-284).
This has to stop and they should be giving the salary they rightfully deserve. Most of them work hard mainly for a promotion which they almost never receive. It has also been found that a restaurant worker on average receives one-third of the payment that workers in other industries earn. Even though the companies are not able to increase the minimum wages of the workers, they are going on hiring newer people. This is mainly due to the competition between the fast food companies. The operators and managers have no control over the fixed costs of the business like franchise fees and leases, and thus, are constantly under pressure for keeping the wages as low as possible.
Lee, Seok-hoon, Yong-pil Kim, Nigel Hemmington, Deok-kyun Yun; Competitive service quality improvement (CSQI): a case study in the fast-food industry; Food Service Technology; 4, 2, 75-84; School of Services Management, Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, UK, 2004.
Mayhew, Claire & Michael Quinlan; Fordism in the fast food industry: pervasive management control and occupational health and safety risks for young temporary workers; Sociology of Health & Illness; 24, 3, 261-284; Industrial Relations Research Centre, University of New South Wales, 2002.
Øgaard, Torvald, Svein Larsen, Einar Marnburg; Organizational culture and performance: evidence from the fast food restaurant industry; Food Service Technology; 5, 1, 23-34; Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, 2005.
Pepper, Audrey W; The Relationship Between Fast Foods And Convenience Foods;Definitions And Developments; International Journal of Consumer Studies; 4, 3, 249-255; The Queen’s College, Glasgow, 2001.
Schlosser, Eric; Fast-Food Nation: The True Cost Of America’s Diet; Rolling Stone magazine (USA), Issue 794, 1998.