This post was written by Renee Bryant, a participant in the Global Justice Summer Internships.
Working with Jose Oliva this summer at the Food Chain Worker’s Alliance (FCWA) allowed me the opportunity to reflect on my previous experience as a black woman in the food industry and study more about food justice overall. Jose is a Latino male and has worked in the food industry in the past. His experience is what drives him and gives him a passion to highlight the injustice, specifically in the form of pay that workers in the food industry receive. Women and racial minorities are consistently at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to food industry justice because they are often in positions where they can be taken advantage of due to the hierarchies and systems our society sustains to keep those groups at the bottom. From working with Jose, I learned that these people often cannot afford an education and are stuck working dead-end food jobs where they get paid little and work long hours. Over time it becomes a cycle and these people get stuck in sometimes multiple food jobs struggling to make ends meet while the companies they work for make billions.
I could identify with the little pay and exhausting work due to my experience working at McDonald’s one summer. The summer after my freshman year of college I had not gotten any internship offers so I took a job at my local McDonald’s as an overnight crew-member. I do not come from a privileged background and I needed money for books and other expenses since Vassar is not exactly a cheap school. I worked four or five nights a week and made $7.25 an hour. My duties included cleaning the restaurant, taking orders, cashier, and stock for the next day. By the time 6 a.m. rolled around my feet would be sore, I was annoyed from being sexually harassed by customers and coworkers all night, and sad I was missing the summer fun all my friends were having. When I would turn in my drawer, I would notice how much money the restaurant was making and compared that to how little I was receiving in my paycheck.
Fortunately for me, the job was only temporary and I was able to return to school and move on. Some of my coworkers did not have the privilege of a short experience and for them McDonald’s was their sole income. I could not imagine trying to raise a family or live on my own on the wages a McDonald’s salary provides because the money I made during the summer barely covered the cost for my books and incidentals for the first semester. In some ways feel like there is some disconnect from me and the other employees despite the fact that I am a woman of color and a lot of my coworkers fit into that demographic. I at least had the luxury of moving on to work on my education while others could not even afford community college. Pairing my experience at McDonald’s and my experience at FCWA has shown me that everyone deserves to get paid a fare wage whether they are only a college kid making summer money or a single mom with a teenage son. The lesson I learned this summer at FCWA was that every job and every worker is worth more than companies are willing to admit.