Fast Food strike symbolic of laziness, lack of accountability

By Steven Gillard

(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

In recent months, protests staged by fast food workers across the country have gained national attention. Fast food workers claim minimum wage — as low as $7.25 an hour in some states — is not sufficient enough to make a living and support a family. Moreover, they assert that employees of fast food giants such as McDonalds, a multi-billion dollar industry, should not be scraping by while executives rake in profit.

On Thursday, Sept. 4, protests took place in about 150 cities nationwide.  Nine people were arrested in Boston for blocking traffic while protesting their low wages and demanding $15 an hour.

The Heritage Foundation calculated that raising the minimum wage in the fast food industry to $15 an hour would lead to a 77 percent decrease in profits, as well as a 38 percent increase in prices. Essentially, paying employees $15 an hour would wipe out the profit margin of fast food companies and make it more difficult for those who rely on cheap fast food for meals to afford them.

The protests, however, are not so much an issue of economics, but of principle.

As a former high school student and current college student, I’ve worked a fair amount of minimum wage jobs in my lifetime. I’ve scooped popcorn for the opening night of Harry Potter and I’ve made ice cream sundaes at a busy restaurant in a crowded, outdoor shopping center. At times, both of these jobs have been stressful and tiresome, especially on days when I would work both.

I have bills to pay, college debt, gas and car insurance and textbooks.

Would it be nice to make $15 an hour? Of course.

Do I deserve $15 an hour? Absolutely not.

Minimum wage jobs are minimum wage because they require minimal skill. It would be ludicrous for me to walk up to my boss and demand $15 an hour for scooping popcorn, yet fast food workers are demanding the exact same thing and this belief is somehow recognized as legitimate. Demanding $15 an hour for pushing buttons on a computer terminal and flipping burgers is laughable. And no, “working hard” is not defined as long, unforgiving hours at a thankless job. Working hard is acquiring skills to put yourself in a position of success; working hard is going above and beyond and setting yourself apart from the rest.

You have a family to support, so you deserve a higher wage? Here’s a brilliant idea: don’t start a family if you are unable to support it. I can walk into the local McDonalds right now and get a job at $8 an hour, but if I impregnate a girl next week at some college party then apparently I am worth more as an employee, although my skill set is exactly the same.

If the unpredictability of life has thrust you into a position at a fast food joint when you previously held a more lucrative job, I’m sorry, but my advice is still the same. Work hard and become a supervisor or manager, take up a second job or get a job as a waitress or waiter so you can make tips.

Don’t demand that whichever fast food company you work for pay out of pocket simply because you refuse to do more than work a single job. Corporate executives earned their money, and are by no means morally or financially obligated to give it to their employees.

Taking to the streets and demanding higher wages, but doing nothing to earn them, is cleverly disguised as fundamentally American because of the peaceful assembly and the equality it promotes. But these protests are shamefully un-American, replacing values of determination and persistence with finger-pointing and indolence.

The protests over fast food wages are not isolated incidents either, but symbolic of a larger problem in this country: the lack of accountability for one’s own position in life.

Maybe the fact that you are relying on a job to make a living intended for high school and college students is not a product of the oppressive capitalistic economy of the United States—maybe it’s a result of your own poor work ethic. The only person you have to blame for your own stagnancy is yourself; believe it or not, you can move up in this world, and expensive education is not the only way of doing so.

Life isn’t fair. People are born in different places, with different socioeconomic backgrounds and different advantages and disadvantages, and that’s the way it is. I think I can speak for many of the students at UMass when I say that many of us are here at least in part because of the relative cheapness of state schools compared to private universities.

Yes, we are the 99 percent. Yes, we deserve to lead successful lives. But I’m tired of the large economic disparity in the United States being used as an excuse for our own shortcomings.  I’m tired of external factors being used as scapegoats for our own incompetence, and the flawed notion that an individual is not ultimately responsible for his or her own fate.

You want to get ahead in life? Do whatever it takes.

Don’t demand $15 an hour for grilling McDoubles and mixing McFlurrys.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]