I Am A College Graduate And A Fast-Food Worker

A college degree does not solidify job security.
Took this a week after I started
Took this a week after I started

(I am not writing this for sympathy, but simply to advocate for what I have experienced over the past few months)

Tuesday’s national #FightFor15 protests have sparked-yet again- the good ole ‘who deserves more money’ debate on my timeline. I’ve always supported the increase in minimum wage for everyone including fast-food workers and my stance has not changed.

However, it’s been improved.

I graduated with my bachelors in journalism with a minor in political science. I was one of the lucky college students who knew what major I wanted to undertake. I fell in love with policy along the way. I completed internships on Capitol Hill in Nashville and Washington, D.C., I’ve written some of the best material for the local newspaper, The Tri-State Defender, and I do wonders with a camera. Last year, I ran for office in Memphis as one of the youngest candidates in the race. I did not win, but I’m confident that I made an impact on my community and made my contenders bring their A-game.

Alas, I am a 25-year-old college graduate and I am a fast-food worker.

Social media is the space for opinions, thoughts, and discussions. Sometimes debates which can be fruitful.

To read the opinions (again) from some of my peers who disagree with raising the minimum wage hit me in a new way today.

I haven’t been as vocal about my life this year simply because I’ve been ashamed of where I am currently, professionally. Some familiar faces have stopped by the store and recognized me. Some encounters have been harmless and some have been emotionally brutal.

(For the sake of this, let’s call this person Jim.)

Jim stared at me the whole time he ordered food.

I knew Jim. I had worked with Jim on some projects around the city. I knew Jim’s spouse and kids. Jim even voted for me when I ran for office.

As Jim sat down and I moved closer with my broom to sweep the area, Jim called my name,

“Kirstin.”

“Hey, Jim. How are you?”

“I’m sorry to have been staring. I don’t recognize people out of context.”

That dagger of embarrassment tore open my chest and anxiety sat on my lungs. I smiled, wished Jim a delicious meal and went back to sweeping.

Let’s cut to the chase:

My previous job lost funding and since my department was newer and ‘non essential’, I was laid off in March.

I didn’t sweat it because like a true millennial I was confident in my skills, experience and ability to interview well.

The final week of my job, I was in a car accident that totaled my paid-for Toyota Corolla at no fault of my own. I’m pretty involved in the city and love my independence so being without a car had me feeling like Earn in jail in the second episode of Atlanta.

After a few interviews and no job offers, I crucified my pride and filed for unemployment in May.

My plans of moving out my mom’s house, the student loan forgiveness plan I praised God for, the hopes of graduate school-those goals and dreams became more blurry by the day. Medical bills began to pile up and I knew this was my last year on my mom’s health insurance (and Obamacare is expensive, folks).

In July, I finally broke down. I just needed something. Anything.

I texted a good friend who works as the HR head at a Chick-fil-A nearby. I asked if they were hiring, and she responded they were, “Starting at 14-years-old.”

Here comes that dagger of embarrassment again.

She figured I was asking for a kid I knew. I revealed I was inquiring for myself and spilled my situation.

At 16, I made the commitment to never work in retail or fast food.

My mother has held a career in retail for the past 30 years. My first high school job was working at Best Buy (shoutout to Lawrence from Insecure). I hated it. At 16, I made the commitment to never work in retail or fast food. The oath was a religious motivator throughout high school and college. I would beg for mercy on the corner of Sam Cooper and Highland before working fast food.

The 25-year old with a college degree who a few months ago organized a trip to Nashville for her clients to visit the TN General Assembly and got the same Chick-fil-A to sponsor breakfast.

The same young woman whose supervisor asked, “How’d you get Chick-fil-A to sponsor a bunch of LGBTQ, HIV+ volunteers on a political trip?”

The same 25-year-old whose response was, “Because I’m Kirstin Cheers.” (Cocky, I know)

When I told her my situation, she offered to have a meeting with me at the store the next week. She then texted me again, asking if I had experience in communications and marketing.

“Hell yes!” I thought, “Ok. God is up to something. I knew He wasn’t going to leave me hanging.”

I met the director and operator within the same week. Both loved me. Both assured I would like the atmosphere and would join the marketing team in no time.

There was a catch though. Every team member had to climb the ladder the Chick-fil-A way: at the bottom.

We all know Chick-fil-A is well known for its superb customer service. These people keep a smile on their face. All day. The whole shift. In their sleep. With a mop in one hand while wearing an apron. We all love Chick-fil-A for its quick, personable service and just really good food.

I learned just how true the company was to their commitment to good customer service. You will literally get pulled to the side if you’re not smiling.

I’m not beneath moping and cleaning restrooms (I thought).

I’m not beneath making lemonade (I thought).

I’m not beneath serving people with a smile even when they’re rude (I thought. OH GIRL. I. THOUGHT).

I started in dining room. I was so oblivious to what was coming my way, my first day I dressed in one of my favorite navy Harper pants suits from Old Navy and tan heels, thinking I would be sitting in the back office for orientation. My supervisor said, “Ummm, do you have tennis shoes? You’ll be working dining room today.”

(Egg white grill on my face)

“Ok, stay humble, Cheers. Start at the bottom and get to where you want to be as soon as possible. You got this.”

The following weeks came with a new uniform, more sweeping, smiling, cleaning sanitary napkins off the restroom floor, cleaning pee off the playroom floor, more anxiety, disinfecting an area infected by vomit, cleaning windows, the parking lot, and serving familiar and unfamiliar customers (some great and others rude). 

I tried hard to remind myself everyday that this was just a temporary situation or a situation from which something great would blossom that I just wasn’t privy to.

I tried hard to remind myself everyday that this was just a temporary situation or a situation from which something great would blossom that I just wasn’t privy to. Being nice when nothing nice is happening in one’s personal life is hard, but it’s not an excuse to not provide quality customer service-I’ve learned.

I went from a $5,000 pay raise (from first job to second) to a $9,000 pay cut (from second to now).

It’s. Been. Brutal.

Thankfully, my mom agreed to let me stay as long as I needed to, I deferred my student loans and with help, got a new car (I didn’t want one, but that’s a testimony for Watch Meeting).

I’m single with no kids and no major bills. I am indeed blessed, but since working here I’ve encountered people who did not have it so easy.

While most of our high school and college employees work at night, our morning shift was occupied with people as young as 20 and as old as 50.

Since I’m so well known and Memphis is so small, I’ll protect their identities and individual anecdotes of how they got to the fast-food restaurant. However, neither one of them are lazy bums who do not want better for their lives and their families. They are mothers, fathers, businesswomen, students, Christians and Muslims, Black and white, all from different and every walk of life you could imagine.

America is hypocritical. We tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and when they ask if they can get a nice pair, we hand them sandals from Payless.

And they all deserve to survive in this country.

America is hypocritical. We tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and when they ask if they can get a nice pair, we hand them sandals from Payless.

Let’s debunk some myths:

Raising the minimum wage would cause inflation.

People took one economics class and got smart. According to a study done by the Economic Policy Institute, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 in 2016 would have returned the federal minimum wage to roughly the same inflation-adjusted value it had in the 1960s, and would have increased the GDP by $22 billion and created 85,000 net new jobs.

It’s just flipping burgers

Ma’am, if it was just flipping burgers, you would cook more at home.

Besides that, the guys in the back handle more than just a spatula. They handle raw meat. Actually, they handle raw chicken. Salmonella anyone?

Our guys manage inventory, manage employees and train new and current employees. They make sure the chicken is stored and cooked in the proper temperature. Thus, they make sure you won’t die from contaminated chicken.

We must also know the nutritional value and facts of our products.

Calories, trans fats, sodium, cholesterol, gluten? We know it so you won’t have to.

Those jobs are for teenagers

Nationally, we perceive more teenagers work in Chick-fil-A than any other age group. We do have a hearty amount of teens who work for us and receive the benefit of a scholarship and leadership training (because a good corporation gives a damn about investing in their employees-more on that later). However, the average age of a fast-food worker is 35 and 55 percent of workers work full time (This is one of the few weeks I will work 40 hours).

Well, fast-food work isn’t that important and isn’t gaining much profit anyway.

According to a new analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census data by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the jobs with the largest projected growth in the next decade are primarily female-dominated and low-wage: personal care aides, registered nurses, home health aides, combined food preparation and serving workers (including fast-food workers), and retail salespersons. These jobs are projected to add 1.9 million jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Well, stop having families and babies if you can’t afford them

Now, you are just one missed birth-control pill away from a baby shower yourself so STOP.

Look, if we walk away with nothing else, please know a college degree does not solidify job security.

I REPEAT

A college degree does not solidify job security.

Especially for those of us who were dumb enough to study liberal arts. In a recent article published by The Atlantic, recent college graduates between the ages of 22 to 27 are underemployed, working in jobs that do not require a college degree.

People deserve the right to survive and just simply make it out of poverty. Just because someone took a different route to the American Dream does not mean they shouldn’t obtain it.

Fast-food places do create jobs and will continue to create jobs. Fast-food places not only are training grounds to learn work ethic and hard work, but to gain skills needed in the areas of business, marketing/PR, management, accounting, sales, engineering and technology. As the world changes, we need corporations that are committed to supporting their workers through professional development and training opportunities and raising their wages.

What’s asinine is we have created the culture where the aforementioned statement is seen as superficial, unrealistic and surreal. Be it McDonald’s, International Paper, the high school around the corner, the local newspaper or FedEx hub, corporations are more committed to putting profits over people including the people who they employ. Corporations are more committed to outsourcing for cheaper than investing and creating loyal employees for the long haul.

But fast-food workers are uneducated?

Besides the fact that one can say this after reading my background, how is this mutually exclusive from this debate? Education is the lost battle of this generation. Especially in a city where our school system is shattered, we need to tackle both increasing the minimum wage and providing quality and equitable education for children so they will develop to be whatever they want (from fast food franchise owner to scientist).

Instead of blaming people for the poor decisions we’ve assumed they’ve made over the years, we should work diligently to ensure anyone who works in this country can afford to survive.

Education is the lost battle of this generation.

Again, I’m not writing this out of sympathy. I have a full plan to move beyond where I am currently. I have an amazing support system that has covered me on the worst of days. It’s a humbling experience. I needed to learn humbleness and what it means to be a servant. I needed to learn how to “harness my tongue” as my dad says and quickly solve problems (because you customers are not easy to work with). I have met all kinds of people while there-police, former mayors, past teachers, transplants, doctors, chefs and more. I’ve learned not to judge lest I be judged. I’ve learned how to be productive when there’s nothing to produce and how to press forward when I do not feel like it.

But I am not writing this for me because I recognize-even while underemployed-my privilege. I write this for the people who can’t or won’t tell their story, and the people who are trying to tell their story, but are quickly shot down because they flip burgers.

For the mother whose child is fighting cancer and fast food gave her the flexible hours she needed to support him.

For the businesswoman who’s struggling and needed extra income to support her family while not giving up on her dreams.

For the kid who has hopes of going to college or is in college and has to support himself.

For the father who is saving to send his 4-year-old to a pre-K program to give him a quality head start.

For the guy who has a criminal record and just needed a fresh start.

I have advocated for education, charter schools, women, immigration, health care and people living with HIV/AIDS. This experience is no different. Give these people what they deserve.

Looking at the current poverty rate and the diminishing middle class, many of us in different fields are overworked and underpaid if we’re honest with our W2s. I am challenging whoever reads this to stop judging people for the choices they’ve made and where they are in life, and let’s work together to fix this mess.

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BEFORE YOU GO

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What Minimum Wage Haters Won't Admit
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