Wage war: Fast food workers deserve more than minimum wage

Kalea Urpanil, Staff writer

Are fast food workers worth more than $7.25 an hour? They seem to believe so. Considering the recent strikes being conducted by such employees in the hopes of a higher wage, it’s no wonder the whole situation is causing such a stir. No, I’m not referring to the backlash that the CEOs of these fast food chains are getting for not meeting the needs of their former employees. I’m referring to the fast food employees themselves.

“These lazy people don’t deserve a raise,” said one online comment. “Get a real job,” said another. Do these comments surprise you? They didn’t surprise me.

I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for over 10 years. I started as a dishwasher at 15 years old and worked my way up to being a server today. I may have never had anyone tell me to get a “real job” to my face, but the reactions I see when people hear I’m 27 years old and still work in the food industry feel essentially the same.

Working in the food industry has taught me a lot through the years: multi-tasking, good communication skills, prioritization, problem solving, the ability to work under pressure, the ability to work well with others, time management and attention to detail.

Do these skills look familiar? Many of the things I learned throughout my time in this industry are the same skills hundreds of companies are looking for every day.

My boyfriend, a law student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has interviewed for numerous internships since he started school. Throughout these interviews, a pattern has emerged. Interviewers ignored his experience in a legislative internship for Wis. Sen. Herb Kohl. Instead, interviewers focused on the skills he acquired in the service industry. As a young man who once managed a 300-seat restaurant and who once worked as a chef, server and bartender all at one job, it was no wonder they were so amazed.

Frank Bruni, former chief restaurant critic of The New York Times, decided to switch sides of the table and worked as a server at a busy New York restaurant for one week. As Bruni recounted the daily struggles he faced – memorizing a menu, dealing with difficult guests and completing a multitude of small tasks during a busy shift – he demonstrated that working in the food service industry is no walk in the park.

It can be easy to judge a person whose shoes you’ve never walked in. Sadly, I’ve done it before. Let’s try to make something clear: whether busing tables, washing dishes, waitressing, cashiering or making food at a local McDonald’s, if you’re getting a paycheck at the end of the week, you’re working a real job. You take time out of your day to go into work and take care of customers. Why should these positions be seen as any less “professional?”

McDonald’s is a multi-billion dollar corporation, and its employees are no less committed to making a living than those employees who work at such chains as Trader Joe’s, Starbucks or Costco. These corporations have similar hiring standards and job responsibilities as fast food restaurants and are known for treating their employees with respect and considering their financial realities.

Why should the workers who feed millions of American families be treated with any less respect? When viewed from this perspective, criticism of these employees’ requests for a reasonable living wage seems shockingly out of touch.