A Bone to Pick with the Arches

As many of you know I am actively avoiding the news as of late so many stories escape my attention but two stories, only one will I touch on today, have passed my filters thanks to others who want to talk about current events.

As we are in the midst of the holiday season, a time we should be stress-free, many are stressed beyond words.

christmas-cookies

The biggest stress that falls upon us as Christmas approaches is a financial stress. For some this is of their own making, they spend beyond their means to give gifts that attempt to express their love for another.

But there is another group of people who are financially stressed because the economy has faltered. They can’t find work and what work they  have found is so low paying it’s not enough to support a family.

I know, the numbers are good. The stock market is up and unemployment is down. These two figures say nothing about the actual experiences of the average worker. Stock numbers only reflect how well the ultra rich are doing while the unemployment numbers ignore those who are under employed or have been out of work so long they no longer qualify for unemployment.

So what is my beef? It’s with McDonald’s, the fast food king.  In answer to workers, who are no longer young teens living at home but head of households and college educated that can’t find other work, wanting a higher wage McDonald’s answers them by announcing they will be rolling out automated cashiers in 2017. While expected only to affect large cities, for now, the number of people who will hold their breath and hope they will have a job in a few months is as high as 1.5 million.

mcdonalds

I get it, as technology improves automation will continue to replace human workers. It’s the wave of the future, it always was.  Yet, until we create new jobs or design the new economy that those of us old enough to remember were promised – one a life of leisure and stability as the robots took over the work we can’t afford to have such a large employer eliminate jobs on this scale with only a couple months notice.

Who else remembers the lofty aspirations of this lifestyle associated with shows such as the Jetson’s cartoon?

In 1966, Time Magazine and others began to describe the life of leisure we would experience and our only problem would be how to fill the hours of leisure, which vacation to take next. Thom Hartmann in Are We Going to be the Flintstones or the Jetson’s you can read a much better worded account of what those believed would be our future than I can express.

We don’t have to sit by and take it. Let me share two examples of the power of the people I’ve experienced first hand.

Five years ago, the local grocery store where I lived installed self-check out lanes. Cashiers were on hand to help shoppers learn how to use the machines. How nice to have to train others to eliminate your job. Being a small town and the store owned by a local family word quickly spread that as soon as the customers learned how to use the new machines all but one cashier per shift would be let go.

People in the town realized this would hurt people they knew and lived next to. The decision spread by word of mouth was to boycott the self-check out lanes and preserve the cashier’s jobs. The owner of the store was told that we would take our business elsewhere if he laid off that many workers – we did have an option of a Super WalMart so it wasn’t an empty threat.

The solution? The owner agreed to leave the four self-check out machines and lay no one off. He needed to cut the hours of a couple cashiers and asked for volunteers, those who had the least to lose took the couple hour a week cut.

Another situation arose with a fast food chain in the same town. This was many years ago. A Burger King built and opened a brand new restaurant in the town. The problem was they had no handicap access. When asked the manager was quoted as saying that those in wheelchairs could just “use the drive-thru”.

That answer wasn’t good enough, not to mention dangerous for the wheelchair bound person. Word spread through town that everyone should boycott the restaurant. Surprisingly, the entire town boycotted the restaurant because they wanted all the residents to have equal access to every businesses in the town.

After being open for business less than a week, Burger King saw their sales drop to exactly zero. The second day of the boycott they announced the handicap access was an oversight in construction and it was being remedied.  It was and in a few days customers returned and the business flourished.

Now Burger King isn’t the best food to eat and neither is McDonald’s but if we care about our neighbors and their families it’s time to stand up for them.

Will activism work in the current economy? I don’t know but it can’t hurt, can it?

Why is this bugging me so? I have a friend who is disabled, unable to work who now has her adult son and his wife and child living with her because he can’t afford rent on his McDonald’s wages and can’t find supplemental or better employment.  What happens to this multi-generation family if he is one of the workers cut in 2017 through no fault of his own?

 

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20 thoughts on “A Bone to Pick with the Arches

  1. You are right about the stock market and the unemployment numbers. They both reflect elements of our society that miss most of the regular folks who are struggling. And with the new administration – that may not get better no matter what they say or do. Sorry about your friend’s situation. Sadly this is not uncommon. I think that is why there is so much unrest in our country now.

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    1. Elaine, you hit the mark with your last sentence. I felt weeks before the election that at least in the rust belt Trump was going to win because people were grumbling that things had only gotten worse for them in the years under Obama. When I considered that Obama won because he promised Hope and Change but eight years later people felt worst off I believed they were going to go with the wild card in the hopes they would get help. Unfortunately, I think they are going to be more disillusioned by Trump than any other president in their lifetimes. I do hope I’m wrong. I don’t like Trump or anything about him but I’d love for him to surprise me and be the man his voters thought he was.

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  2. Well, your examples are inspiring, but when you look at the big picture, I think automation is inevitable. I mean, just look at the typical white collar office setting of today compared to that of 50 years ago. Once you had rooms full of typists and filing clerks and people taking shorthand dictations and inter-office mail clerks, and now they’ve all been replaced by computers. And then there’s manufacturing – vast numbers of those jobs have been lost to automation. And even in fields like agriculture, foods that used to be sorted and processed by hand are now all done by machine.

    I don’t really know what the answer is, but I don’t think that it’s going to go away. I can remember a conversation over some holiday meal at my dad’s house waaaaay back in the 1980’s. There’s no such thing as light chit chat with my dad & stepmom, and at this point we were discussing the economic conditions of the dissolving Soviet Union. The topic of street sweepers came up and my dad was talking about how in Russian cities the streets were all swept by hand – meaning actual humans out there with brooms sweeping the streets. I commented that I thought it was sort of barbaric that people should have to toil in such circumstances, but my father didn’t see it that way. His thought was that at least the society was providing them with a job.

    Anyhow, my dad thinks that the solution to this problem is a guaranteed minimum income. Basically everyone gets some sort of tax-funded stipend from the government just for being a citizen, which is enough to pay for the basic necessities, and then people have the option of working privately if they want more money. I believe they’ve experimented with it in Canada and it’s been wildly successful at eliminating poverty. Anyhow, in my dad’s utopia, people wouldn’t just be given the money, they’d have to work part time for the government in order to earn it – sorta like the WPA back during the depression.

    Given the current political climate it’s pretty hard to imagine that sort of thing ever taking hold here, but it is nice to dream about it.

    Anyhow, here’s more info on the concept if you’re curious: (I inserted a few spaces in the link so it wouldn’t get flagged as spam.)
    http:// http://www.huffingtonpost .ca/ news/ mincome/

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    1. Cat, I like to think I am not delusional. I know automation will do away with more jobs every year. I think what really bugs me is that the talk of using automated cashiers at McDonald’s didn’t come up until the fight for $15 wage did. I just found an article that shows the ratio between McDonald’s last CEO and the workers was 644:1. At that rate a little less to the CEO and all the workers could be paid $15, heck maybe a bit more. In his first year as McDonald’s CEO he made $13.8 million. And if the company gave up a little of it’s 28 billion in annual profit we could see living wages for their workers.

      http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/March-2015/McDonalds-Don-Thompson/

      I think I’d like your father. I would rather be outside sweeping the streets than sitting in an office so that’s not a job I’d turn my nose at if it meant I could pay my bills. Although, I doubt a crumbling USSR paid decent wages to laborers.

      I can’t seem to get the link to work but I am familiar with the guaranteed minimum income. I don’t see that happening here any time soon. We would have to be willing to cut back supporting industries, reduce the amount the military industrial complex has at their disposal which would also mean ending non-stop wars and then tackle the prejudice in society of the poor before we could make any inroads of that nature.

      Speaking of which, we recently talked about the rising cost of health care and how it was affecting my son and his family. I’ve got an update you might find interesting. He received a noticed from his health insurance informing him that his children would not be covered until he proves they are US citizens. The children are 2 and 5. The youngest was born after the ACA took affect. Being as how they are comfortable believing both my son and his wife are citizens it’s shocking they now have to prove their children are when the children’s births were both covered by insurance. Anyway, thought that would give you a laugh. I’m told that as soon as they produce the birth certificates for both children they will have coverage again.

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      1. Hmmm… I couldn’t make that link work either… how odd. Anyhow here’s the unadulterated version – I’ll just send you a quick note if this gets flagged as spam:
        http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/mincome/

        You know, as I was reading some of the minimum income stuff, I came upon something hopeful. Apparently Prince Edward Island (in Canada) just (within the past few days) passed a measure to start experimenting with the concept. The most hopeful part was that the measure was passed unanimously, and that the conservatives were actually completely on board! Apparently they liked it because the program would essentially replace all of the other means tested and government run welfare programs, and would simply give people money which they could spend – so in their view it would support conservative principles by creating a “market driven” system. Still not holding out hope for something like that here, but it is interesting.

        I completely agree that the income disparity issue is both ridiculous and huge. I don’t think that’s gonna change any time soon though – especially with the incoming administration who believes that all regulations are evil. But some people claim that it’s actually worse than that – that publicly held corporations are legally required to maximize profits or face lawsuits from their shareholders. I think that view is somewhat controversial, but there’s no question that this seems to be the operating principle for a huge chunk of the corporations out there. Sigh.

        I am totally dumbstruck by the proof of citizenship thing for the children. Although, back when Obamacare first passed, I had to get a denial letter from Medicaid before I was eligible for the premium subsidies. This involved applying for Medicaid, which did require that I provide my birth certificate. As a hilarious side note, I was born in Hawaii, and when I presented my birth certificate at the department of social services, the woman there looked at it with great skepticism. “That doesn’t look like any birth certificate I’ve ever seen” she said! I started to make a joke about Obama and the whole birther thing (I was actually born in the same hospital as he was) but thought better of it. She finally relented and let my application go through, but it was very interesting to say the least!

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        1. That link worked. That’s good news but I can’t imagine a minimum income being embraced here by both parties no matter what argument we tried to sway them with. There was one ting I found striking in the first article. They reported the number of people living in poverty was 9%, I knew ours was higher and looked it up to find the most recent figures put our poverty rate at 15.4%. Both our countries outsource, and while Canada has seen it’s GDP rise due to the export of the tar sands and other oil. I wonder what has kept their poverty rate from rising like ours.

          Have you asked your father what he thinks of Canada’s experiment with a minimum income? I bet he’s pleased.

          Since when does a private company refuse to accept your money for their product or service? The idea of insurance companies requiring an individual to prove they can’t get Medicaid before allowing you to purchase a plan from them is ridiculous. I bet that woman who questioned your birth certificate would love mine. My mother’s second husband adopted me so my birth certificate is dated for two and a half years after I was born and doesn’t look anything like other PA residents. What a world we live in.

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          1. Well, the Medicaid denial thing is not to allow you to buy a policy, it’s to allow you to get the premium tax credit. Basically there are all of these different pools of money out there – Medicaid, Obamacare tax subsidies, CHIP (the children’s healthcare thing), and Medicare. Sooo the Medicaid denial requirement (and I would guess there’s probably a similar CHIP denial requirement for kids, but I don’t know) is only for people who want to take advantage of the Obamacare tax credit – it’s to make sure that whatever government dollars you’re getting are coming out of the correct pool of money. It’s all just lunacy in my opinion. We should just have ONE program that covers everyone. But since that will never happen, I’ll take the crazy patchwork of Obamacare in a heartbeat. Alas, I think its days are numbered though, and with Republicans at the helm, I fear the situation might actually end up being worse than it was before. Sigh.

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          2. While I understood that it seems like a bunch of red tape for something that should be straight forward. I agree we should have universal coverage. I’m familiar with the CHIPS program and something like that would work best, in my opinion. For CHIPS, you pay based on household income with a cap which used to be $80, not sure it went up or not, probably did.

            The latest news I hear coming out of Republicans is that Obamacare will still be repealed on day one of the new administration but not replaced with anything for at least three years. Where does that make any sense? I don’t know if we can pay for wars, planes the military doesn’t want, tax subsidies to corporations….pick your pet peeve, we should be able to find the money to cover everyone with insurance. I guess my brain works differently from theirs.

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  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_wage

    A referendum initiative suggesting introducing a minimum living wage of CHF 4000/mth (Swiss Francs approx. equal to US$) was thrown out here in Switzerland last year – SMEs in particular felt they couldn’t afford it. Disappointing but I can see both sides. There was also one envisioning limiting high earners to 12 times that of the lowest earners… obviously too utopic. That didn’t make it, either. Interesting development, nonetheless, and I hear Germany is now picking up the discussions on this topic.

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    1. I can see where neither of those referendums passed but it’s sad nonetheless. I can’t even imagine a minimum living wage of $4,000 a month. Currently our minimum wage, not to be confused with a living wage, is $7.25 an hour. Those paid a minimum wage rarely have full time employment hours but if they did that would work out to just over $1,200 a month. On our minimum wage the idea of recreation and one educational course a year would be a pipe dream.

      In the states our CEOs are now earning on average 200 times what their employees are earning. This article shows the top ten companies with the highest income disparity, https://www.thestreet.com/story/13267933/1/10-companies-with-the-highest-income-inequality-between-ceos-and-workers.html
      You can see number one is McDonald’s with its ratio being 644:1. I didn’t realize McDonald’s was that high and now I almost wish I had come down harder on them in the post.

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  4. I wish I knew the solution. You are correct. The numbers of unemployment do not register those that no longer qualify for benefits and have given up trying to find work. I don’t see things getting better anytime soon. You can make statistics dance anyway you want to but there are still to many that can’t afford to live well. Most of us have cut to the bare bones. A lot is going to require retraining because the work people did, no longer exists. I never use self checkout. Don’t care how long I have to wait. Word of mouth is still a good way to get things done. I don’t go to the golden arches unless I’m desperate for a cup of coffee.

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    1. Marlene, I am preaching to the choir on unemployment when talking to you. You have seen first hand with your children how bad the job market is. I don’t see things getting better either but I believe that while it has to get worse it will for a reason and that reason is for us to create a new economy. The problem is the adjustment period where we struggle to find what that will be.

      Nope, I won’t use the self-checkouts either. I don’t want to be responsible for another person losing their livelihood. I’m not a coffee drinker but I hear McDonald’s coffee isn’t all that good so you must be desperate for coffee when you stop. 🙂

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      1. Actually, McDonald’s is the least bitter of all the take out coffees. Starbucks, when I bought one and most restaurants, require a pot of water alongside so I can do half water, half coffee. Not drinking much of it these days. When I make it at home, it’s half reg, half decaf and very weak. Haven’t had a cup all week. ;(

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          1. Expensive it is. My ex loved Starbucks and would drag me there now and again. It drove me nuts to see what he paid for a single cup of tea for me. I think I ruined his morning pointing out how I could purchase an entire box of that specific brand of tea bags for less than the single cup cost. 🙂

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      2. Minor point but interesting – McDonald’s coffee in Switzerland is very good, apparently (and the Swiss are big coffee drinkers, with a high proportion of coffee-drinking immigrants who know their stuff! And definitely compared to Starbucks, which is like washing-up water in comparison, I’m told) 😮 But I don’t know if the US has the McCafé sections, which are like “proper” cafés in any case, (at least the classy Swiss ones are!). McDonald’s is not that cheap here and has to adhere to Swiss quality norms, so probably no comparison. But, you know…
        As a tea drinker I can’t really contribute. But yes, all over Europe, self-order/self-checkouts have been put in – having said that, I can’t see that McD or any of the stores with this feature (or even airport check-in) have less staff. It’s simply more annoying and takes longer. With a lot of people standing about doing very little. Duh.

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        1. I can’t speak for all McDonald’s in the US, but haven’t heard of an actual café section in them. What I understand is that the McCafe options are just another product ordered from the menu as with any other item.

          I’m a tea drinker too, never could stomach the smell of coffee any more than the taste.

          I don’t think any of the fast food places here are cheap but that’s my view compared to how little it would cost to prepare the meals at home. I understand you can get a meal for around $6-7 which would be a sandwich, fry and drink. I also think the food is rather gross, not tasting at all like what you can get at home or a real sit down restaurant.

          The only store I visited that had all self check outs was Ikea but visited there a few months ago and noticed they had replaced them with actual cashiers. Not sure why, maybe they were losing money from theft?

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  5. great post, Lois! For myself, I feel the basic problem is human greed. I, too, remember when automation was hailed as leading to a more emjouable life. Instead, some owners figured out that by replacing workers they could increase profits. And now see the results . . .
    Worker co-ops are a great option, but not all businesses are suitable for that form. I like the idea of regulating the proportion of income between highest and lowest paid employees. I can’t imagine what any CEO could possibly DO all day that would justify a multi-million dollar a year incom.
    I, too, refuse to use self-checkouts. When our Safeway in Edmonton installed some, I was asked every visit if I’d like some help using one. I asked if I would get a discount on my groceries, as I would be doing the cashier’s work. When told ‘no’ (of course), I stated that I’d rather keep the person speaking to me and her fellow cashiers employed. I do the same at the library. Until recently, I loved libraries and talking to the librarian for a few minutes was a real joy. Ofte they would reccomend books to me, or I would do the same for them. Machines offer nothing of that nature; besides, they often are ‘out of service’ due to people not using them correctly.
    Anyway, the day that the extra profits are divided among the employees I will begin supporting automation. Until then, no way! WE need to educate people to think about choices like this and the consequences of those choices. In my opinion, we have toomany sheep and not enough goats!

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    1. Isn’t it funny how those of us who don’t have the millions can’t picture how to spend that kind of money yet those with it don’t feel they have enough. I too would like to see a cap on the income gap between the employer and working classes but to do that we need to go back to before Reagan and restore the higher taxes on income over one million and the off shore banks. It was that tax that had employers reinvesting in their business and workers.

      Love how you asked if you would get a discount to check yourself out! Looking back there are so many things we used to have where people did a service for us, milk man for instance. In those days we were connected to more people through our meetings with them. I liked those days better.

      Speaking of the milkman, my uncle delivered milk right up till the day they stopped home deliveries. I loved riding in his truck.

      I can’t imagine a library without contact with the librarian who checks me out. I still get good recommendations from my librarian.

      Sheep and goats? Not as fond of real goats but I’ll take a few bucking kids right about now over the sheep we’ve become.

      Merry Christmas, Linne.

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