…But From Workers' Standpoint, It's a Different Story
Crew members like these think differently about things like sick pay than do restaurant owners.
In Minnesota, it’s against the law to force a sick employee in food service to come to work, or more to the point, to knowingly allow a sick employee to stay at work. But that’s not stopping the anti-public health and -humanity practice, according to four employee panelists on a Minneapolis City Council work group that’s contemplating sick pay mandates.
Sarah Norton, who introduced the Jan. 20 session and has been a server for 22 years: “I get it. Some of my bosses are great. Some of them are terrible. While it may not happen across the board, it does happen,” she said, when servers are forced to work when sick or their hours get cut in retaliation if they do call in sick. “It’s important that there’s no employer backlash if you do call in.”
Three employees on the panel, who did not share their last names, told tales of woe. Said Rosa, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “I work for McDonald’s. It’s important we get paid for sick days. It is a necessity that we have the benefit.”
Said Kristina: “I do have children. One has epilepsy, and has grand mal seizures. One has asthma. If I get a call from the ER, that is my priority.
“I believe everybody” needs the ability to take care of such emergencies, she said, and I admit I squirmed in my seat, realizing that my employer allows me the freedom to always take care of my family, but many people don’t have that basic right.
Said Steven: “I’ve worked for McDonald’s for a year and a half. We don’t get paid sick days, but we wish we could have sick days. People are coming in sick. And we don’t get paid much neither, $9 an hour for an overnight shift.
“I don’t understand how people at McDonald’s don’t ask the employees what’s really going on. I don’t want to call anyone a liar, but we don’t get paid for sick days or get our breaks. I’m ready for things to change.”
He’s an example of one of the many who don’t distinguish between McDonald’s corporate and individual franchise owners—something that McDonald’s franchisee and panelist Tim Baylor wanted to emphasize. “You should come work for me,” he said to Steven, because Baylor does offer paid time off.
Now I had a few pointed questions I wanted to ask the business owners: If they want a competitive advantage, why not offer a basic sick time policy for all employees, perhaps with a 90-day waiting period before starting? Why not make it paid time off, for whatever reason, so they don’t have to get into the guessing game of: are you sick? Do you need to take care of something? Who cares? And why not get in front of the government mandate to make your business competitive in a tight labor market?
Steve issued a challenge for employers who offer managers benefits but not employees—and he had a point. “It doesn’t seem fair that the managers at your store get paid sick days and front-line workers don’t. We want those sick days not to just play around. We shouldn’t be forced to bring in a doctor’s note—it costs to go to the doctor. We should be awarded for some of the things we do.”
And in response to the Buffalo Wild Wings operator who pointed out his employees easily swap shifts via computer, using a “hot schedule” program that makes that easy. “I’m glad for these programs, where people can pull up a schedule on a computer to make a change,” Steve said. “But what if we don’t have a computer? What if we have to go to the library to use the computer?”
The divide in points of view seems very wide, and poignant as to what those of us who have, take for granted.