In “Behind the Counter”, Eric Schlosser argued that fast food companies do not value the workers in the industry. Schlosser proved his argument by discussing the system through which fast food companies manage and treat their employees. Schlosser, a well-known investigative journalist, also stated factual cases about employees treated badly in fast food chains in the United States. The problems discussed in “Behind the Counter” involved issues concerning the employment of teenagers and immigrants, the lack of professional or career development in fast food employment, the lack of skill development in the field, and the undesirable working conditions that employees have to endure in the fast food business. These issues will be discussed in the essay including specific examples from Schlosser’s work as well as supporting evidences noted from the film, “Food, Inc.”, to support the idea that workers are not valued in the fast food industry.
According to Schlosser, the fast food industry implements a highly controlled mass production system, which is the reason why companies in this industry do not hire skilled professionals. The mass production system is largely routine work and employees are expected to work by the rules and through techniques and methods within this system. Therefore, the requirements for recruitment are not high. On the contrary, fast food companies hire teenagers, part-timers, and unskilled workers who can work under the least desirable conditions for minimum salaries. Fast food companies do so because they are easier to control, and thus, mold into drones workers who can follow the system of operations in the industry. The strict system of operations in fast foods, according to Schlosser (70), not only “creates standardized products” but also “increases the throughput” and “gives fast food companies an enormous amount of power over their employees.” The system is also the reason why fast food companies do not rely on the skills of human resources anymore. Instead, employees in fast foods are expected to follow the system, the rules, the standards of quality and expectations, the techniques and methods, etc. and when they are unable to, they can be let go as easily. Based on Schlosser’s examples, the work of fast food employees could be synonymous to the routinary and mechanical work in factories where people simply follow a system mindlessly.
Employees in fast food companies also suffer the most undesirable work conditions. Schlosser named fast food companies that have been treating their workers badly. At McDonald’s and Burger King, work hours are controlled to avoid paying overtime compensation. Both companies hire fifty crewmembers at a time and work thirty hours a week and pay them minimum wage. In the past, Taco Bell has forced some employees to work off the clock so as not to be paid. For instance, managers only allow employees to clock in during busy hours. Schlosser (75) revealed that Taco Bell forced their employees to “clean restaurants on their own time” and were “compensated with food, not wages”.
Some fast food companies may argue against Schlosser’s claims because they provide employment opportunities, especially for teenagers and the disadvantaged. Fast food companies often employ immigrants who are second language speakers and teenagers who are seeking part time jobs for extra income. Fast food companies claim they provide them with gainful employment. However, the intention of these companies does not serve the best interests of employees but the companies’ goals, objectives, and methods. Moreover, Schlosser argued that the working conditions in fast food companies do not benefit teenagers who are still studying. The work hours, for instance, are not favorable for teenagers and may be the cause for students failing in their classes or dropping out. Schlosser also argues that the undesirable work environment could influence the views of teenagers regarding work. The long hours and minimum wage could discourage teenagers from aiming to establish a career. Schlosser argues that if their job is “boring, overly regimented, or meaningless, it can create a lifelong aversion to work.” Fast food companies are therefore, self-serving companies that only hire teenager and immigrants, especially second language speakers, because they can be easily controlled and not because they aim to provide gainful employment for these populations.
One of the major issues in fast food companies that disadvantage workers is the turnover rate and the lack of skill and professional development opportunities. Although some employees can establish a managerial career in fast food companies, Schlosser discovered that the turnover rate is high among this ranks, which means that employment is volatile in the industry. Individuals cannot be rest assured of both personal and professional development opportunities in the fast food business. Moreover, being in the industry prevents employees from gaining valuable skills and experiences that they can apply in their future careers, especially in other fields. The work in the fast food industry is highly structured and employees are expected to follow only the system and the rules. Thus, work cannot be considered as a means for further learning or skill development.
The problems on employment in the fast food industry as stated by Schlosser were also discussed in the documentary, “Food Inc.” The film not only sheds light on the detrimental impact of the mass production system in the fast food industry on the environment but also emphasizes how employees in the industry are being disadvantaged because of poor working conditions. The film, however, focused on the workers behind the production of food that fuel the fast food industry. In one of the segments in the documentary, the conditions of employees working in farms or production facilities was discussed. Apparently, the health of employees is compromised due to the unsanitary work environment only to breed and provide meat from hogs that are manufactured to provide for the high demand of food from fast food restaurants. Moreover, companies in the industry also ban their employees from joining unions in order to make sure that the management has their way with employees. Without the support and vigilance from unions, fast food companies can force their employees to work longer hours without due remuneration.
Although Schlosser and the film have revealed significant information about the unfortunate situation of fast food workers in the industry, the author did not suggest solutions that could contribute to the resolution of the issues and problems discussed. I believe that as an investigative journalist, Schlosser’s work involves exposing factual information that the public should be knowledgeable about. However, aside from exposing practices in the fast food industry that disadvantage workers, Schlosser also discussed some situations that force fast food companies to pay attention to their employees and provide for their needs. The involvement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for instance, is one solution that contributes to the development of a health working environment that is conducive to the wellbeing of employees. OSHA sets health guidelines that all companies should implement in the workplace to safeguard employees and prescribe sanctions to businesses that are unable to meet those guidelines. Schlosser also discussed how unions help employees demand for employment conditions that befit them.