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Bite-Size Compensation, Supersized Costs: A Labor Day Pledge

September 1, 2014

By Ellen Bravo

McDonalds made headlines when it advised its employees to cut their food into smaller pieces to make it last longer, offered sample budget forms with a line item for a second job, and gave tips on how to apply for food stamps. But when a South Carolina employee couldn’t afford child care and had her nine-year-old daughter play in a nearby park, the headlines were about her parenting, not about the company’s labor practices.

Debra Harell McDLike many low-wage workers, Debra Harrell took her daughter to work every day in the summer because she couldn’t afford child care. The girl would play on her mother’s laptop. But when the laptop was stolen, the park seemed like a feasible alternative – it had a splash pad, playground equipment, and a volunteer who showed up every day with free snacks. The girl had her mother’s phone to call in case of a problem. After another parent called the police, though, Debra Harrell wound up in jail for 17 days and lost custody of her daughter. A conviction could bring a sentence of up to ten years in prison.

Similarly, when Maria Fernandes died of fumes while trying to nap after an overnight shift at Dunkin Donuts in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the story in the mainstream media was about the tragedy of someone trying to manage multiple jobs – not the bite-sized compensation and unpredictable scheduling of her employers.

Wendy’s did wind up in the news after firing Jamila Richey in Alabama when she went to a doctor with severe abdominal pain and learned she needed surgery that day for an ovarian cyst. Although her boyfriend delivered the doctor’s note to her employer, Jamila was fired because she allegedly “abandoned her job.” The story, however, got little coverage.

McDonalds, Dunkin Doughnuts and Wendy’s are all active members of the National Restaurant Association, which pours lobby dollars into opposing any increase in the minimum wage, unionization or even the most minimal standards of paid sick days.

This Labor Day, let’s put the spotlight where it really belongs – on mega corporations that pay supersized packages to their CEOs while keeping workers at poverty wages and too few hours, and docking their pay or taking away their jobs when they need a day or two to take care of themselves or a loved one.

In honor of Debra Harrell, Maria Fernandex, Jamila Richey and so many others, this Labor Day let’s pledge to do everything in our power to stop neglect, abandonment and abuse on the part of corporate giants. The cost of undervaluing work and workers in this country is just too high.

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