In his article “Behind the Counter”, Eric Schlosser argues that the fast food industry is behind the country’s trend toward unsupportable earnings. Beginning with the story of a 16-year-old girl named Elisa, he illustrates what a typical work day looks like for her.
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Although busy, it is not portrayed as unnaturally stressful or more demanding than other jobs. However, as his discussion continues, Schlosser illustrates why the industry initially capitalized on adolescent workers and how this has shaped highly questionable hiring ethics within it and other industries in America.
The primary focus of Schlosser’s argument is that the fast food industry has driven an environment in which capital and production is all and people are interchangeable. Initially offering the expanding baby boomer population with flexible jobs that met their school needs, fast food is now actively exploiting less advantaged members of the population in ways that provides them with few, if any, alternatives.
“Roughly 90 percent of the nation’s fast food workers are paid an hourly wage, provided no benefits and scheduled to work only as needed … Managers try to make sure that each worker is employed less than forty hours a week, thereby avoiding any overtime payments” (Schlosser 426).
Because the industry continues to perfect the factory assembly-line systems that were prevalent at the height of the Industrial age, it is increasingly unnecessary to retain skilled employees or to engage in any training at all.
Throughout his article, Schlosser charges the fast food chains with deliberately short-changing their employees’ already minimal wages through practices such as requiring restaurants be busy before they start their shifts, paying in food instead of paid hours or requiring employees to clean on their own time.
This practice has been well-documented in industries outside of the fast food industry as well, lending support to Schlosser’s claim. Steven Greenhouse documents numerous cases in his article “Forced to Work Off the Clock, Some Fight Back.” In this article, several individuals employed in low-skilled or no-skilled occupations speak out about their companies’ policies regarding requiring employees to work for no pay.
The strategies listed by these individuals echo those listed in Schlosser’s article. While Schlosser offers some support for his claims, Greenhouse interviews the director of the wage and hour division of the U.S. Labor Department, giving the claims made in the argument a great deal of credibility.
The Labor Department has taken many corporations to court on behalf of employees who have been cheated out of their fair wages. “It is one of the more common violations of the Labor Standards Act,” said Alfred Robinson of the Labor Department in Greenhouse’s article. Although the ethnicity of most of the individuals cited in Greenhouse’s article is not specified, one is specifically identified as being an immigrant worker and the quote attributed to him reflects his English as second language status.
It can easily be inferred from the information presented by the very well-referenced article by Greenhouse that the issues discussed by Schlosser are valid concerns for the mostly immigrant workforce currently manning the kitchens and counters of America’s fast food restaurants.
Practices engaged in by companies that attempt to argue that they are in full compliance with the law while blaming individual managers for coercing employees to work without pay are bad enough when the employees have a sense of their American rights, laws and legal recourses.
How much worse must the situation be when the individuals involved may not realize they’re being cheated, don’t know they have rights or that there are laws to protect them or have no idea what to do other than simply accept a deplorable situation?
Greenhouse, Steven. “Forced to Work Off the Clock, Some Fight Back.” SKN Worldwide. (2004).
Schlosser, Eric. “Behind the Counter.” The Blair Reader. 7th Ed.