The anger of fast-food workers has been building for years. The industry torments workers with poverty wages, rampant sexual harassment in the workplace, wage theft, abuse from customers, and more, and the pandemic has exacerbated all of these problems — pushing many workers past their breaking point.
The ongoing wave of workers quitting their jobs (which has been dubbed “The Great Resignation”) has been led by fast food and retail workers, who have room to maneuver within the labor market for the first time in decades. There have been a lot of striking examples of what this looks like in practice, but over the weekend, a former Wendy’s assistant general manager provided us with a great look at what’s driving workers to quit.
TikTok user mintjuul.666 posted a series of videos explaining how he and more than a dozen coworkers quit their jobs in June. The first video opens with footage of a note stuck to the screen saying, “We quit.”
“COVID happened, a couple months went by, everyone realized how shit it was, and everyone quit,” the TikToker says in the video. He goes on to recount how the store’s general manager, assistant general manager, and a half-dozen shift managers quit, he got promoted to assistant general manager of the store—effectively running the entire business.
“I was working 85 hours a week every week with no day off for the whole three months,” he says. For this, he was getting paid all of $14.77—less than the minimum wage in some states.
After a new general manager was hired and “completely ruined the place within two weeks,” he and 17 other workers at the store quit. In a follow-up video posted later, he shows a schedule from April with fewer than two dozen workers on it, substantially fewer than one next to it from December. One reviewer of the restaurant calls the staff “lazy,” but there’s little to no staff to speak of.
This is happening all over the country. Preliminary data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week showed that more than 1.7 million food service and accommodations workers quit their jobs in August and September combined, and the percentage of workers in that industry quitting their jobs in September (6.6 percent) more than doubled that of the high national average (3.0 percent).
The Chamber of Commerce line for months has been that “no one wants to work anymore.” This is an obvious lie, but it’s nonetheless how business interests succeeded in killing federal pandemic unemployment benefits early in half of all states and then succeeded in completely shutting off all debate over whether or not they should be extended, even though it made zero sense from a policy standpoint to not extend them.
But it’s clear now, months after these benefits have ended everywhere, that this wasn’t the case. It’s not that workers don’t want to work anymore, but that they don’t want to work obscene hours for starvation wages in humiliating conditions. Until the Wendy’s franchise owners of America understand this, their worker shortage seems likely to get worse before it gets better.