By Bob Dorn
Debby, or Debra, Flores is 20 and has a 2-year-old daughter. She works at Wendy’s downtown, First and Broadway from 11 am to 3 p.m. only four days a week, which means she’s part-time and enjoys no company benefits. She makes $8 per hour from the Wendy’s she’s part of. So, during the week at Wendy’s she’s making $32 a day, taking home $128.00 per week, less taxes.
She pays taxes because she has ANOTHER job at a hookah lounge delivering food and tobacco starting at 7 pm and continuing through the night to 6 am.
Think of it. This slight, lean young girl human on a typical day of the week puts in 15 hours of work a day, commutes to her mother’s home and spends just about 3 hours a day with her child, starting at 3 pm. Sometimes, on a good day, she grabs maybe five hours of sleep, if she can sleep.
“It’s a big challenge,” she says, with a shrug. Her mother, with whom she lives, takes care of the baby. If it weren’t for that, Debby would be at home, fulfilling the prophesies of trickle-down Republicans who believe those damned minorities are just welfare cheats.
She was one of of some 90 to 100 demonstrators outside her own employer’s restaurant on Thursday, just two or three minutes’ walk from the centers of governmental power in San Diego, the County Courthouse and City Hall, taking part in the national strike/demonstration against fast food megaliths like Burger King and McDonalds. They’re asking for a 33% raise from the typical $9 per hour salary to $15 per hour.
Outside Wendy’s yesterday the crowd of some 100 got occasional beeps from passing cars… WooHoos erupting from the demonstrators each time.
A UPS delivery guy worked his way through the crowd, joining them in the chant:
“Listen Up, Wendy’s/Don’t Be Mean/Support Your Workers/Fight for 15.”
He got a big round of applause.
A clerk in the records office might have passed by Debby to get her Wendy’s ¾ pounder with cheese and fries that day for $7.99, perhaps not giving much of a thought to the expenditure. We seem to tolerate the thought that a young woman with a kid could deliver up to 25 or 30 burgers in an hour before she could pay for the one she could eat for lunch. If she did pay for that burger, she’d lose 25% of her day’s pay.
The remarkable thing about the young workers I spoke to was their lack of any bitterness about the low wages their employers are paying.
Like Debby, 22-year-old Diego Rios worked two jobs trying to keep himself afloat, but says he quit his job with AT&T because he was so much more comfortable working for the McDonalds at Park Blvd. and A Street, across from City College.
“I love people who work at McDonalds. They’re all honest, hardworking people, where at AT&T the hours were great and the pay was good (he sold plans and phones at kiosks and stores) but they were really oriented around sales, and were super competitive.
“There was very little friendship among the employees, and the times there weren’t people in the story they’d spend watching television or at their computers. I like honest work.
“And it just got too hard working two jobs, more than 40 hours per week.”
A friend of Debby’s who’s known her since high school, Yasmin Silva, also 20, works a similar schedule at the Wendy’s, says her friend “really struggles. She can’t do anything but work and sleep and spend 3 hours a day with her baby.”
Yasmine has her own problem.
“I have an illness, so I can’t really do anything but work; I have to pay for my drugs.” She has a relatively rare form of diabetes, tagged insipidus, which forces her to travel to Tijuana regularly to buy her specific medications at more affordable prices.
“I take the trolley (she lives with her boyfriend, downtown) to the border, usually after I get out of work at 3 pm, and I don’t get back until about 8 pm.
She thinks her pal, Debby, has a tougher time of it.
Just for the record, Forbes reported at the end of last month that Wendy’s posted an unexpected profit of 3 cents per share, with revenue up $650.5 million, which led the company to declare a 25% increase in dividends to shareholders.
Reasonable people might figure that leap in profits could help the company give its workers a part of those profits.
Anna Daniels says
Bob- thanks for dispelling the corporate myth that fast food workers are teenagers making their first entry into the labor market. Fast food workers are much more likely to be like Debra Flores. When we have an opportunity to hear people’s personal stories, we are much more likely to temper our own judgments. We need more stories. Thanks Bob!
John Lawrence says
Great story, Bob! Brings the whole thing down to a personal level. Minimum wage workers need to think about a path out of their wage serfdom. There are a lot of different businesses that one can get into with minimum training or education and minimum capital investment. Even if you only work a couple days a week, you will make much more than a minimum wage job at Wendy’s. For instance, you can make at least $100. a day just cleaning houses.
My business, which I’ve been in for 37 years, required absolutely no training or credentialing, and I made a capital investment of $20.00 to get started. The advantage of self-employment is that you make a lot more than minimum wage per hour, and you have control over your hours.
Ernie McCray says
Thanks, Bob, for breaking it down so people can understand what the corporate world can afford to do to make our lives better.
One argument against raising the minimum wage that I often hear is that it will drive companies out of business. But according to a 2012 Demos study the cost to a company to pay employees at a minimum a living wage ($25,000/yr; $12.25/hr) even if passed on entirely to consumers would result in price increases of about 1%. I don’t think any company is going to go out of business for that reason.
In fact, many of the fast food businesses that operate here in the states are already paying $15/hr in other countries and doing quite well.
And it’s even possible to directly compare towns or cities that are part of the same regional economy, but are separated by state borders and have different minimum wages. A 2007 New York Times report on one such area was around Post Falls, Idaho and Liberty Lake, Washington where on the Washington side, the minimum wage was the highest in the nation, at just under $8 an hour, and Idaho was among the lowest, matching 21 states that have not raised the hourly wage beyond the federal minimum of $5.15. What they found was that “instead of shriveling up, small-business owners in Washington say they have prospered far beyond their expectations”.
I say it’s time to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr.