The Reality Of Working In The Fast Food Industry

Fast food workers are striking for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Is that reasonable?What's it like to be a fast-food worker in America? The working conditions in the fast food industry have recently been under harsh criticism, thanks to workers' walkouts and protests in New York and most recently in Chicago on Wednesday. Workers are demanding a pay raise to $15 per hour, a significant increase given that the average pay is about half that. Even though food preparation is the third most common job in the country, the average salary for the gig is just $18,720 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The workers also are demanding full-time schedules so that they can receive benefits. Is this fair? What are conditions like inside America's fast-food chains?

AOL Jobs' "Lunchtime Live" discussed these issues Friday with Ken Margolies, an associate director at the Worker Institute at Cornell University, and two organizers from the Chicago protest, the Reverend Liz Munoz and Shani Smith.

During the chat, Munoz explained why the current industry practice of paying workers a minimum wage salary of $7.25 an hour isn't enough. "If you're living in Chicago, you need to be making at least $17 an hour just so you don't have to rely on public assistance," she said. "We're talking about a bare minimum here for families to support themselves. People can't work in a food industry and then not feed their families."

More: 40% Of Fast Food Workers Think Their Jobs Might Make The World Worse

AOL Jobs invited representatives from fast food chains including McDonald's to join the discussion, but no one was made available.

The industry trade organization, the National Restaurant Association, did release a statement to AOL Jobs defending the sector's current pay model. "The minimum wage is typically a starting wage," Sue Hensley, a spokesperson for the association confirmed via e-mail. Nevertheless, she wrote, the "industry provides opportunities for millions of Americans, women and men from all backgrounds, to move up the ladder and succeed..., with 80 percent of owners and managers having started their careers in entry-level positions."

Do you think fast food workers should be paid more? What are the opportunities for advancement in chains? Share your comments below.

See below for highlights from the chat:

Lunchtime Live - The Reality of Working in the Fast Food Industry.M4v

For the full video chat, go here.

Update: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. EDT, April 26, 2013.

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As an RN for 40 years, I find it interesting that a job I had as a teenager is now considered a job meant for a family to live on. Let\'s face it, these are ENTRY level jobs for a reason. I wonder how a person who flips hamburgers can earn 1/3 what I make,, after all my years of experience. Let\'s not forget I save lives for a living.

July 18 2013 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If minimum wage is a great idea lets make it $100 an hour so we can all have it made.

Union Electricians make a good wage. They also serve a five year apprenticeship, go to school, and have to expend significant effort to become an Electrician. Certainly fast food workers work hard, however, its not a high skill position. Let the free market decide the wages. Fast food jobs are entry level jobs, not skilled craftspeople jobs.

July 18 2013 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

McDonalds is tough work:
At our local small town McDonalds here in Texas the work force is moms, and a few older retired fellows from opening until around 3PM, then mostly high school, and a few Junior College young adults from 3PM to closing.

It is not full time, it is not a good job. It is survival for a few of the workers, and extra money for the household for the working moms, and money for a car and things their family can't provide for the working youngsters. All races work there, and learn to get along, or you do not stay employed.

As for workers being loyal it does not exist, for an extra 50 cents an hour you will jump to another fast food restaurant, I did when I left this McDonalds and went to work for a local restaurant, and went from 22 to 30 hours a week.

But McDonalds taught me discipline, looking decent, hair combed, and getting to work on time. I learned to work with the public, and how to control my temper ( get in a fight, loose your job) and became a person in charge of their temper instead of it controlling me. I also made friends outside my own race and religion, something that served me well in my time in a few years in the military.

So, good pay, no, but they took the time to train us, put up with our youthful mistakes, and teach us what a job meant.

July 18 2013 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe the minimum wage should be a living wage. A living wage is that which allows you to take care of your necessities with a little extra to invest and raise your income without having to jump through unethical hoops just to get a little extra. However the real issue is the attitude of superiority that comes from certain individuals in one job class showing disrespect and disregard for individuals in a lower paying job class. I own a business and understand the complexities of money management, but i would always pay enough so that the workers would give their best willingly rather than pay little and get the least effort. If you pay little, you will get little. You will fire and hire and still just get little. The laws of supply and demand work with employees to. The economics demand that below poverty workers fight for an above poverty wage. If you don't then boycotts will happen to force certain businesses to close. Even the value menus won't be enough to bring in a customer base if the customers are no longer able to afford a meal at these restaurants. If you pay more, you have a right to expect the best effort and fire those that do not.

June 30 2013 at 11:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I work in a fast food restaurant. Its busy 24/7. I would be a great job if it paid a little better. I LIKE working there. You would be surprised at the bologna that we have to put up with on a daily basis. Working in the "big city" comes with "big problems". People are crazy. Plain and simple. They throw things at you and other customers. They have food fights in the lobby just because they think that it would be funny. They tear the outside of the building up. They do disgusting things in the bathroom. People come in drunk or high all hours of the day and make issue with things. People call us stupid just because we work that kind of job. I may make little more than minimum wage but that doesn't make me stupid... It just means I'm poor. However, with all the bad there are good things about it too. I get to meet people i wouldn't normally come into contact with. As it turns out the mayor likes to get coffee every morning. I see so many of the same people every day that they are like an extended family, when I see them out we talk like old friends. It has its ups and downs but I definitely dont think they pay me for the amount of work that I do.

June 27 2013 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I say give them a raise but not no $10 raise (current $7.25p/h should NOT be raised to $17p/h. have them make $9 to $10 an hour. I have busted my butt with 2yr degree and 3 IT certificates, and I'm still only making $17p/h which is not any thing near what the IT world is suppose to be making for a system admin. So I say take a $2 raise or shut the hell up.

June 27 2013 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how can a life insurance company get by stealing your money by a dishonest AGENT, that had his license revoked in JEFFERSON CITY, MISSOURI, for stealing. The insurance company says the case is closed. How can they get by with this?

June 21 2013 at 8:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think people should stoip whining about what they are "ENTITLED" to and work. When I was young and poor I worked THREE minium wage jobs and was thankful for the opportunity. I learned a lot. It gave me good business and work ethic. I waitressed every night and soon figured out that if I was nice and cheery the customers tipped better, I worked in a clothing store for discounts on my clothes, I worked on a farm for food and a small wage. EVERY single job gave me experience . I started my own business very young and still have it. Built on work eithic and customer service. Stop the whining go to work . You are entitled to nothing excepot that which you earn.We all are promised nothing except our constitutional rights. Use them wisely and stop complaining The minimum wage should be done away with. Good people will earn more and bad people will be where they belong out of work.

June 21 2013 at 7:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How dare you say minimum wage means minimum skills! Every job requires skills, and fast food workers may not have advanced skills, but they work very hard at what they do. I see the problem as the corporations trying to squeeze every dollar they can from the dining pockets they can by offering those oh so nutritious dollar cheeseburgers. Seriously, if they sell them for a dollar, how good can they be. And they focus their advertising on cheap food towards the people that really shouldn't be eating it to begin with! All while the executives rake in millions and millions.
This country is in serious, serious trouble when it preys on the least equipped to generate disgusting profits to line the pockets of those that need it the least. Pay them a decent wage, raise the price of that cheeseburger to $2.00, help them obtain some sort of healthcare, then sit back and see how much better we as a people and a nation become.

May 31 2013 at 10:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Absolutely not. If fast food employees, who do little to nothing in the way of challenging work, were to succeed they would find out that it didn't help them one bit since all other positions would move up commensurately. In short, artificially induced wage inflation. It is a given in economics that all pricings are relative, and that as the bottom increases the levels inbetween also do, all the way to the top. There WAS a time before government got involved with minimum wage legislation when CEO's did NOT make such astronomical salaries when compared with the lowest end. As min. wage levels went into effect and increased, the gap at the top did as well since all the jobs between maintained their relative spacing.
There IS a reason for "minimum wage" pay- it's called minimum skills (actually, virtually NO skills) required.
Trying to get more for doing the same will not succeed and will only end up causing many of them to lose jobs. There would be more incentive for mechanization development that would replace them.

May 31 2013 at 10:14 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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