"It's killing me to ask my mom for help": The heartbreaking cost of a life at McDonald's

A McDonald's employee opens up about the realities of the fast-food industry

Published April 15, 2015 4:24PM (EDT)

  (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP/Gene J. Puskar)

I could see the protest from the corner of my eye as I walked through the parking lot to report for my shift at McDonald’s.

I’ve never considered myself a rabble rouser, and I planned to just ignore this protest as I would any other, but one of the signs caught my eye: It read, “Hey McDonald’s: Where’s Our Raise?” I’d heard about McDonald’s pay announcement the day before – a tiny one dollar increase above the minimum wage. I also knew that the raise would not apply to me or any of the 90 percent of McDonald’s workers at franchised stores.

I work hard every day wearing a McDonald’s uniform. There’s no question that I work for McDonald’s, and seeing this protest touched a nerve: If the company will do anything to deny me a raise -- even pretending that I don’t work for the company in the first place -- then how much longer could I stay quiet if I wanted any hope of support myself and providing for my family one day?

One of the workers at the protest explained that she was with the Fight for 15 -- I’d never heard of it before, and until McDonald’s recent pay announcement, I would not have thought it was for me. But this week, I’m joining thousands of other workers at McDonald’s in the largest strike to hit the fast-food industry in U.S history. I’m standing up to prove that McDonald’s cannot deny its responsibility for me or any of the 650,000 workers at its franchised stores, and to demand $15 an hour and the right to a union.

I work as a shift leader at two franchised McDonald’s stores near Atlanta, and am paid just $7.50 an hour. I rarely get scheduled for more than 20 hours a week, and I get sent home whenever business is slow. I’m working harder than ever to support myself and my newborn daughter, but I can barely pay rent, and it’s killing me to have to ask my mom for help.

In other words, I’m facing the same low pay and terrible working conditions that are a fact of life for all other workers at McDonald’s and in the fast-food industry throughout America. We don’t see ourselves as working at a franchised or corporate-owned McDonald’s – it’s only the company that seems to think we are not all in the same boat.

When I talk to my coworkers, they tell me they feel the same way: that the company controls everything about their job – from the way we fold bags, to the way we’re told to smile, to how fast we work at the grill – but then when it comes to pay, suddenly they claim that we don’t even work for McDonalds at all, just a franchisee.

Every worker serves McDonald’s food, in a McDonald’s uniform, in a McDonalds’ store. We all help to make the company money, and we all deserve a raise.

Even though this move has done nothing to help me pay for my rent and basic necessities, it has shown me that McDonald’s heard their workers speaking out for better jobs. Workers made this wage announcement happen, and as other low-paid workers like home care aides, adjunct professors, and now students at over 200 campuses join in, the movement for $15 an hour and union rights is growing stronger than ever.

When McDonald’s made the decision to sell its workers short, the company should have known that it would only make us want to fight harder. McDonald’s is making $5 billion in profits every year, but they claim that they can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage. No one buys it.

The protest outside my store the day after McDonald’s pay announcement was the first protest that I’d ever joined. It felt empowering to stand next to other workers to demand good jobs that will give us a shot at the middle class and lift the economy foreveryone. It was the first time since I started working at McDonald’s that I felt the company heard me and that my voice mattered.

Going on strike will be a new step for me and for many other workers across the country. It’s a difficult choice, but by standing together, we can speak up for ourselves and for all workers fighting for a better life with a voice that companies like McDonald’s cannot ignore.

Anthony Fambrough works at McDonald’s near Atlanta, Ga., and is paid $7.50 an hour.

By Anthony Fambrough

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Fast Food Fast Food Strike Fight For 15 Labor Living Wage Mcdonalds The Labor Movement