By Ruth Bass, Special to The Eagle
It’s Labor Day. For decades, this day has marked the next-to-last day of freedom from school for children who had been enjoying summer since mid-June. These days, millions of kids start school before Labor Day, so in a few years, Labor Day will vanish from their lexicon as a landmark.
Its meaning has done its own vanishing. Started by labor leaders in the late 19th century, Labor Day is supposed to celebrate the American worker. These days, many American workers are more put upon economically than put upon a pedestal. In many places, unions are losing their power to defend workers’ rights and their accompanying power to increase pay.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fast food industry, where french fries, burgers and shakes have allowed the golden arches and their competitors to glisten with double digit growth since the recession. At the same time, McDonald’s franchises across the land have begun to organize against their workers organizing, rather than support employees’ hopes for a living wage. In various fast food places, workers who want to join the push for an increase in the minimum wage keep silent to keep their jobs.
It is perhaps not surprising that Oregon, with one of the higher minimum wage laws in the nation, was the first to pass a law establishing a Labor Day. That was in 1887, and within the calendar year, Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey and New York passed legislation to establish a Labor Day holiday.
The American worker has been through a lot since then, including acquaintance with welfare, food stamps, unemployment, union fights, collective bargaining and the issue of equal pay for women. In the old days, whatever the disagreements about pay and conditions, a two-way loyalty was the norm, companies confident of workers’ good will and workers trusting bosses. The new normal sees companies letting veteran workers go without blinking and employees changing jobs almost as often as they change cars.
On this Labor Day, thousands of teenagers and a surprising number of adults will be dipping baskets in hot oil to create the nation’s best fries. It may be air-conditioned on the customer side of the computer, but it’s hot back there where grills cook ground beef and the fat sizzles.
One wonders what the chief executive officer of this incredible company will be doing while his minions sweat out not only their day on the job but their ability to pay rent, buy food and gas up the car. Perhaps he’ll be barbecuing at his spacious home, which surely has a pool and a long driveway. Maybe he’s a boater, a golfer, an amateur pilot. In any case, he’s not worrying about the rent, and he’s not splattered with grease.
The CEO of McDonald’s, according to Bloomberg News, makes 580 times ($8.75 million in 2012) what his $8.50 an hour worker gets in Chicago. (Minimum in Massachusetts is $8, with a number of legislators pressing for an increase to $11 and also looking to more than double what wait staff must be paid.)
After a Bloomberg News reporter did a major piece on a McDonald’s worker, another writer pointed out that it would take five centuries for that 44-year-old, who has been with McD’s for 20 years, to rake in $8.75 million. Another way to look at the pay gap here, giving the chief credit for a 60-hour week rather than the worker’s 40, reveals that the CEO’s hourly comes to $2,804.49.
While all this growth among major chains is going on, there is good money to be made. But you need to be a shareholder to do it. What we do get, admittedly, is a delicious sausage and egg biscuit for breakfast now and then, plus the hottest coffee on the planet.