Minerva Rodriguez has worked at McDonald’s in Houston, Texas, for more than 23 years. She is paid US$12 an hour and says she is doing the work of two to three people because the restaurant is chronically understaffed.
Now she, like many Americans, is facing another crisis: runaway inflation. While she has noticed the food prices at her store have increased, pay has not.
“The wages are incredibly low and not sufficient for the work we do,” said Rodriguez, who joined the Fight for US$15 and a union movement to push for higher wages and better working conditions. “They don’t want to lose that extra money. If they can have their present workers do double the job and not have to pay another worker it’s a benefit for them, but what happens with us? With food costs rising and gas prices rising, how are we supposed to live?”
Inflation is hitting Americans hard. US consumer prices increased 8.6 percent from May last year to May, the highest increase since 1981, outpacing overall annual wage growth at 5.2 percent. Food prices have increased more than 10 percent over the year. A gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline is more than 50 percent more expensive than a year ago. The median monthly rent in the US hit an all-time high of US$2,002 a month.
Among those bearing the heaviest brunt of the rising costs of basic necessities are fast-food workers, the majority of whom are paid less than US$15 an hour with few or no benefits.
Many of these workers are not seeing any pay increases to correlate with the rising prices they are facing for food, shelter, clothing and transportation.
While workers in the fast-food industry are struggling with low pay and understaffing, corporate fast-food chains have reported immense profits.
McDonald’s last year reported record sales growth at 13.8 percent and a profit of US$7.5 billion and CEO Chris Kempczinski was paid more than US$20 million, more than 2,250 times the median worker pay.
Yum! Brands, which owns the fast-food chains Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, reported a US$399 million profit in the first quarter of this year, a 22 percent increase from a year earlier. David Gibbs, the CEO of Yum! Brands, received a salary more than 2,100 times that of the median worker pay, at US$27.5 million.
Chelsie Church, a shift lead manager at a Taco Bell in the Denver, Colorado, area for about one year, recently started a petition on Coworker, pushing for the company to raise wages, as the low pay has left workers struggling to make ends meet.
Church says shifts are grossly understaffed, and that low pay undermines hiring and retention as competitors nearby pay better.
“No one can live off US$13 an hour,” Church said. “We have to deal with angry customers all the time about our prices going up, but our pay isn’t.”
Church said her biweekly paycheck does not cover basic bills and expenses such as food, gas and other necessities. As a shift lead manager, she received a pay increase to US$16 an hour, but she said the extra workload and responsibilities are not worth it, and other employers start entry-level workers at that pay.
“They’ve had quite a few people turn down the job because it’s not going to be enough to pay rent, or help you buy kids’ clothes and food,” she said. “Everyone is just busting their butt with extra work they’re not getting paid for. No one gets a break. I don’t get a break.”
In Kansas City, Missouri, where Fran Marion has worked as a shift lead at Taco Bell for about one year, she has experienced similar problems of low pay, understaffing and overwork — all while inflation drives up her cost of living.
“I make US$16 an hour and I’m literally still living paycheck to paycheck, and the pay definitely doesn’t match the work they expect from me at all,” Marion said. “I’m so drained from having to fill in those extra positions plus do what upper management wants me to do within the time frame that they need me to do it in.”
She gets no paid time off and cannot afford the health insurance coverage offered to employees by the company.
“Everything is going up but pay,” Marion added. “We’re human like everybody else. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but we’re still workers and we’re people who struggle to provide for our families.”
At Burger King in Independence, Missouri, Bill Thompson makes only US$11.15 an hour after 10 years with the company. With inflation, it has become even more difficult for Thompson to make ends meet. He has not received any recent pay increase, while working understaffed.
“I’m doing the work of three people,” Thompson said. “Food prices have tripled on meat and dairy. We already go to food pantries and we get food nobody else likes, like peanut butter, powdered milk and mystery meat. Where’s the dignity in that?”
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