Minerva Rodriguez has worked at McDonald’s in Houston, Texas for over 23 years. She is paid $12 an hour and says she does the job of two to three people because the restaurant is chronically understaffed. Now, like many Americans, she faces a new crisis: runaway inflation. And while she’s noticed food prices have risen in her store, the pay hasn’t.
“Wages are incredibly low and not adequate for the work we do,” said Rodriguez, who joined the $15 Fight 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 get their current employees to do double the work and not have to pay another employee, that’s an advantage for them, but what happens to us? How are we supposed to live now that food costs are rising and gas prices are rising?”
Inflation is hitting the Americans hard. US consumer prices rose 8.6% from May 2021 to May 2022, the highest increase since 1981, and outperformed total annual wage growth on 5.2% in May 2022. Food prices have increased by more than 10% during the year. A gallon of gas is more than 50% more expensive than it was a year ago. The median monthly rent in the US hit a record high of $2,002 per month in May 2022.
Among those hardest hit by the rising cost of basic needs are fast food workers, the majority of whom are paid less than $15 an hour with little or no benefits. Many of these workers fail to see wage increases that correlate with the rising prices they face for food, shelter, clothing and transportation.
And while workers in the fast food industry struggle with low wages and underemployment, corporate fast food chains have made huge profits.
McDonald’s reported record revenue growth of 13.8% and profits of $7.5 billion in 2021, and the company’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, was paid more than $20 million in 2021, more than 2,250 times the median wage of a foreigner. employee.
yum! Brands, owner of the fast food chains Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, reported profits of $399 million in the first quarter of 2022, up 22% from the first quarter of 2021. David Gibbs, the CEO of Yum! Brands, in 2021, received a salary more than 2,100 times that of the average worker, at $27.5 million.
Chelsie Church, a shift manager at a Taco Bell in the Denver, Colorado area for about a year, recently started a petition on Coworker urging the company to raise wages as low wages make workers struggle to to make ends meet. Church says shifts are massively understaffed and low wages undermine hiring and retention because nearby competitors pay better.
“No one can live on $13 an hour,” Church said. “We are dealing with angry customers all the time that our prices are going up, but our wages are not.”
Church said her biweekly paycheck doesn’t cover basic bills and expenses, such as food, gas and other necessities. As a shift manager, she received a pay raise to $16 an hour, but she argued that the extra workload and responsibilities aren’t worth it and other employers are starting entry-level employees with that pay.
“There are quite a few people who have turned down the job because it won’t be enough to pay the rent, or help you buy children’s clothes and food,” she said. “Everyone is just busting their ass with extra work they don’t get paid for. Nobody gets a break. I don’t get a break.”
In Kansas City, Missouri, where Fran Marion spent about a year as a sports director at Taco Bell, she has experienced similar problems of low pay, underemployment and overtime, while inflation is driving up her cost of living.
“I’m making $16 an hour and I’m still living paycheck to paycheck and the paycheck definitely doesn’t match the work they expect me to do,” Marion said. “I’m so exhausted from having to fill those extra positions and do what senior management wants me to do within the time frame that they need me to do it.”
She doesn’t get paid time off and can’t afford the health insurance the company offers to employees.
“Everything goes up except pay,” Marion added. “We are people like everyone else. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but we are still workers and we are people struggling to provide for our families.”
At Burger King in Independence, Missouri, Bill Thompson earns just $11.15 an hour after 10 years with the company. Inflation has made it even more difficult for Thompson to make ends meet. He has not received a recent pay raise while understaffed.
“I do the work of three people,” Thompson said. “Food prices for meat and dairy have tripled. We already go to food pantries and we get foods that no one else likes, like peanut butter, powdered milk, and mystery meats. What is the dignity in?”