Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The American Way (Behind the Counter) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • In this chapter Eric Schlosser discusses the recruitment, treatment, and work experience of fast food employees in Colorado Springs and nationwide.
  • The city of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is on the precipice of change. It's a "harbinger of cultural trends" and a place "where the future's consciously being made." Colorado Springs is a center for the aerospace and technical industries. Political, social, and religious conservatives dominate the legislature.
  • Once influenced by the mythology of the American West, Colorado Springs has given way to suburban sprawl, subdivisions, and chain stores. As a result, independent businesses struggle.
  • The city's location and population make it an ideal case study for the impact of the restaurant industry. McDonald's has tested site selection and surveillance technology in Colorado Springs.
  • Teenage employees comprise two thirds of fast food workers. With little or no experience, they are cheaper to employ and easier to control than adult workers.
  • The fast food industry's labor practices mimic factory assembly line techniques, which emphasize "throughput," or the speed and volume of production.
  • Most food is delivered to restaurants frozen so it can be prepared quickly. Machines are built to require few, if any, operating skills. With only one way to perform a task, workers need no real training or skills; thus, employees are easily dispensable.
  • Despite not training workers, fast food companies have accepted federal subsidies for training poor workers.
  • Fast food workers are the nation's largest group of low-wage workers. They are usually paid minimum wage and leave their jobs within three to four months.
  • Fast food executives have consistently opposed legislation to raise the minimum wage. Instead, they offer incentives for managers to keep labor costs low. As a result, many workers are not compensated for working overtime.
  • Fast food managers are trained to offer verbal praise or "stroking" to employees, to increase team spirit and loyalty. Such praise replaces higher pay or other compensation.
  • McDonald's thwarts individual restaurant's attempts to organize or join unions. Employees are encouraged to share information about union organizers and have been threatened with dismissal or lie detector tests. The owners of a McDonald's in Montreal even closed their restaurant permanently when faced with the possibility of a unionized crew.
  • Teenagers who work more than 20 hours a week during the school year are more likely to drop out of school, abuse substances, commit crimes, and develop "a lifelong aversion to work." Low-income and disadvantaged teenagers feel these effects the most.
  • Fast food restaurants are violating labor laws regarding underage employees as to the number of hours put in and the handling of equipment.
  • Teenage fast food workers, often untrained and operating dangerous equipment, are twice as likely as adult workers to be injured on the job.
  • Fast food restaurants are often robbed, frequently by current or former employees. The robberies sometimes lead to murder. The industry has opposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines to prevent retail violence.
  • Improved labor relations, including "raising wages and making a real commitment to workers," would likely reduce crime in the fast food industry.
  • Executives at a Foodservice Operators Conference appear more invested in team building exercises and anti-union activities than improving their labor policies to retain employees.
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