Although many of us would like to see the current exploitative capitalist system overturned tomorrow in favor of something more compassionate, more humane, the reality is that it’s going to take a lot of work for even the least noticeable change to occur.
And then, if I’m being honest, the kind of revolutionary change that would preferable over a continuation of the status quo probably isn’t going to happen. Those who benefit most from the status quo have the most interest in seeing it continue, regardless of how much human suffering this might entail.
As a result, those of us who can envision a new world but can’t yet figure out how to make it come into being are going to be stuck working at bad jobs doing something that, quite honestly, feels like a complete waste of time. Change won’t be immediately forthcoming, if at all. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait.
This is the situation in which I found myself last month when I chose to leave my job at UPS inspecting airplane parts for a part-time job at one of the worst corporations in the world: McDonald’s.
I knew going in that this was a company that sold bad, unhealthy products to people in order to derive profit for themselves. I knew that they employed mentally challenged individuals, which I have mixed feelings about. As far as morality goes, I knew that they were just no good at all.
What I figured was that they would give me the part-time hours that I wanted so I could continue learning how to code in the hopes of advancing my career within a year or two. To my surprise, which I might have seen coming if I’d thought about it ahead of time, that didn’t happen.
They immediately put me in drive through and left me there for the duration of my stay, which wasn’t long. The location at which I worked in suburban New Hampshire was an absurdly busy one.
Some days, the lunch rush would last from eleven in the morning until seven in the evening. There just wouldn’t be any let up at all. I would regularly see cars driving away from the drive through because they weren’t served fast enough- but really, many of these were repeat customers who ought to have known better.
It isn’t as though there weren’t any better options for the consumer nearby. A grocery store named Hannaford’s was right next door. They had an open salad / buffet area where a person could grab healthier food more quickly. That, however, would require leaving their car.
I soon realized that fast food mostly thrives off of consumer laziness. People want something to eat, and they’re on the go. They don’t want to have to get out of the car to do it. They want to keep driving. They don’t care if they have to wait twenty minutes to half an hour to have it while they could just spend ten to fifteen minutes walking around to get some food on the go at much the same price. They’d rather spend more time out of their day keeping their car running, keeping the gasoline burning.
If consumers would discover this flaw in their own spending habits- that they’re both paying for gas and the cost of the food- the fast food industry would have to make radical changes such as they have done in countries like Japan where an American business model is often rejected.
This makes McDonald’s employees have to rush around on a daily basis. They’re always busy. There’s never any let up. There’s never any time to relax or take a break. In fact, the store was regularly so busy that employees would be forced to take breaks not when they wanted- and certainly not on a regular schedule. On my final day there, the company broke a labor law with me by allowing me to work more than five hours without a break. This wasn’t the first time that they had caused me to miss a meal.
While working there, I was often hungry and tired. The scheduling manager put me on for too many hours four weeks in a row after I specifically asked them not to do that. I was left with a bitter, terrible choice: I could either call off the hours that I didn’t want to do and focus on myself, or I could continue working and give my time to a heartless corporation that didn’t care about me.
In the end, I decided to leave. In retrospect, I was hoping for too much from them. I was hoping that they would see my working there as me offering my time to them when I could have been anywhere else. Instead, they only saw me as a person to get them the correct numbers- namely, drive through times.
Of course, this was functionally impossible for a number of reasons. Primarily, there were just too many customers. The drive through lane was perpetually clogged with people wanting to get food for their children in what I can only describe as culinary laziness.
Having been a child myself, I distinctly remember enjoying home cooked meals more than ones purchased at the fast food restaurants. Why parents don’t take the time to cook large meals on the weekends and partition them out in tupperware containers throughout the week, I’m sure I don’t know. [Editor’s note: it’s probably because they’re burnt out from work by the weekends, it’s a vicious cycle!]
Additionally, the managers- there were several at this particular store- took most of the work upon themselves so that the other store employees didn’t have a chance to learn or improve at tasks for which they might be unfamiliar. The focus, after all, was in getting the food out as fast as possible for each order, not in teaching individual employees the skills they need to function adequately at the job.
They find it impossible to take the long view of sustainable, long-term profit because their bad employment practices drive some off and cause others to repeatedly ask for a reduction in hours. What’s more, the pay that they are offering isn’t anything close to a livable wage for the majority of people. Those who have regular car payments, car insurance, car repair bills, grocery bills, rent payments, and whatever else aren’t going to make it at McDonald’s.
If the management treated people better- instead of yelling at them as I often saw- then those same people might be induced to stay around because they just like working there. But that didn’t happen, and it’s not going to happen at any point in the future. Change is not going to come quickly, or easily.
In the meantime, I’m going to offer what advice I can for those people who are dissatisfied with their job. Being stuck there doesn’t mean that one is necessarily stuck helping the company make endless profit. After all, employees are human beings too.
Always, whenever possible, give away free product
In the drive through, I was supposed to charge people an extra twenty-five cents for each sauce packet they requested beyond that which they were entitled as part of their order. I would often give them sauce that they didn’t ask for without charging them for it. This cost the company twenty-five cents each time. I did this more times per day than I could count. For an individual order, it seems like a small thing, but it adds up. The customer goes away, hopefully, feeling happy while the company takes a loss.
Make free food on purpose.
Anytime I had the chance to do so, I would make an iced coffee for a customer (they were always wanting these particularly disgusting beverages) when this had already been made and served.
The one that I made then had to be thrown away. I would also do the same for McFlurries and shakes. As long as the order wasn’t removed from the order screen, I’d make it. Chances are, someone had beat me to it. Then I was costing the company money and depleting their supplies.
It didn’t really occur to them to have me in for fewer hours each day if I was making that many mistakes. Actually, it’s okay to look like an idiot if you’re not seen as a number rather than as a valuable member of the team.
Don’t do hours you don’t want to do.
This was a hard one for me to manage, because I believe in showing up when scheduled- even if I wasn’t objectively trying my best while there. But, really, they gave me more hours than I needed or wanted. They shot themselves in the foot pretty early by giving me two week’s worth of work in a single week. So then, instead of needing to continue showing up in order to pay my bills, I was comfortable staying home.
There was a particular Wednesday after Christmas Day when I was very sick. I was scheduled to go in. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the previous night. This decision didn’t take a lot of mental power to make. I called off at 6:30 in the morning when I could have easily went in and toughed it out. I have toughed it out before, but McDonald’s isn’t really worth the effort.
Relax whenever possible.
Try not to take a job too seriously. I don’t, and I’m in a comfortable financial position. Try not to see yourself as advancing up the social ladder with each progressive year. Instead, remember that advancement is only temporary; unless you are very lucky, age and circumstance are likely to take away all the progress that you’ve made throughout your life. So don’t try too hard- and certainly don’t try very hard if your boss isn’t trying hard for you.
Instead, relax whenever you’re able. Lean against the wall. Sit down in a chair, if one is available. Stand around with your hands in your pockets. Stare off into space. Daydream about the overthrow of capitalist hetero-patriarchy. I don’t know, do what makes you happy, in however a small measure.
Work is not something be taken seriously. It’s best to focus on yourself instead, as much as is possible and practicable.
Take bathroom breaks and wander off
If you’re in a position to be able to wander off from your work area, then by all means do so. Save your bowel movements for work so that you have to spend less time on the floor, or in your cubicle.
It’s okay to wander around looking lost from time to time. After all, if your boss thinks you’re a gullible idiot who will work for the pay that he dictates at the conditions he dictates, it won’t be a stretch to prove him right.
Don’t be an ideal employee if you don’t have an ideal boss.
These are just a few of the strategies that I’ve thought of while at work. I could include stealing on this list, as long as your workplace doesn’t pay much attention. Certainly, there was a lot of theft going on at UPS- people were always stealing the scissors and box cutter knives.
I’m proud to say that I never plunged my hands into the till in order to pocket some cash. If a customer refused to take their change, I left it in there- in my case, my pay would be docked if the drawer was short. So if I left them an extra dollar or two in change every day in order to keep from being fined, that was something I was willing to do.
Working the grill, however, presents an opportunity to drop products on the floor on a regular basis. Often, this will happen naturally by accident. Sometimes, it’s okay to drop a finished sandwich on the floor and cost the company a few dollars worth of profit.
Because, quite honestly, if they were serious about making money, they would become serious about how they treat their people.