The Harder You Work the More You Earn Is a Myth for Fast Food Minimum Wage Workers Like Calvin

seaportSeaport is adding new businesses, and fast casual dining at a very fast pace. It’s the “innovative district” of Boston where a simple burger could cost you as little as $15.

The public seems to have a love and hate relationship with fast food workers. 1 out of 4 Americans consumed fast food every day. They love the food and the convenience that accompanies, but not so much the people who make their food. There are many misconceptions about fast food workers. One of them being fast food workers are lazy, uneducated, and unmotivated to do anything about their situations.

Any successful fast food concept is built on the back of those minimum wage workers. Meaning no matter how great the food concept is, no matter how smart and innovative the CEO is, the business would have failed flat if it wasn’t for them. Yet they are the most underappreciated workers.


calvinTuesday was just another day of work for Calvin. Laser focused, he started his first prep task: roast cases of chicken a few trays at the time. A successful morning prep is essential for a successful day at the restaurant. A lot needs to be accomplished by the time the doors open. Otherwise, Calvin wouldn’t be able to keep up with the flow of hungry customers.

Gemma,” Calvin said, “I do everything here.”  “I believe you my friend,” I replied. Calvin is wearing a blue shirt, that means he is just a crew member. He is doing far more work than his position entailed. People who are hard workers tend to fall into that trap. When you work hard, sooner or later you will end up doing everyone’s else work.

“I want to quit, but I can’t Gemma. My wife is about to have surgery, and we will need to survive on just my paycheck,” Calvin said. His wife, another fast food minimum wage worker, is having trouble with her shoulders because of intense repetitive arm movement from her job.

Food is made and ready to be served at a ridiculous fast pace in a fast food restaurant. This is possible because assembly line workers are doing simple tasks. The downfall to that is doing the same task in a fast-repetitive manner, whether it’s easy as scooping rice and beans, take a toll on your body.

calvin 2Cutting tofu is the easiest part of Calvin’s job. Because of the soft texture, he can quickly cut many packs at once. Every food item in  many restaurants has a “prep time.”  These restaurants came up with an arbitrary number of minutes it should take someone to complete a prep task. Calvin is the fastest worker I know, yet never meet these time expectations

Many hold the view that fast food workers “are just flipping burgers.”  This makes the work sound easy and requires minimum skills. This view is often used to rationalize the low pay. But is it really what is like to work in fast food? Every day, fast food workers do mountain of dishes, clean the entire restaurant from top to bottom, cook in a hot kitchen (often for many hours straight because it’s too busy to take a break), and deal with customers. Most people wouldn’t want to do a fast food worker’s job even for one day. Yet, fast food workers do it every day for pittance. Calvin struggles to make ends meet. And that’s sadly the reality of many fast food workers. 50 percent of fast food workers have a second job, another minimum paid job where they are making just as much. When we put that into perspective, even if fast food workers were making $22/hr (two minimum jobs pay), it would still be an ordeal.

man vs dishesMen vs dishes: dishes decide if you get to go home and say goodnight to your family.

A common misconception is thinking of fast food workers are high school students doing minimum work for minimum pay. 40 percent of fast food workers are 25 years old or older, and the average is 29 years old. Similarly to Calvin, the minimum wage they make is their living wage. Back in 2016, there were 180,000 underpaid workers like Calvin living in poverty in Massachusetts. Raising the minimum won’t get them out of poverty, but it sure will make a difference in their quality of life, help fight health disparity, and decrease child poverty.

dCalvin on his way home to his wife after a long shift. “Everything I do Gemma,” he said, “is for my family.” “I have never done anything bad my whole life,” he continued, “the only time I have been in trouble with the law is when a man thought he could disrespect my family. I beat his ass to the ground. And now, I have to go to court almost every month. It’s bullshit, Gemma.”

Adobe Photoshop CC (Ps) was the software used to edit the pictures.

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