Ever Guess What It's Like To Work At McDonald's?

December 6th 2014

Jemere Calhoun, 30, has worked at McDonald's for four years. Jemere is a new father and, while his wife is on maternity leave, his family depends on his $9.35-per-hour pay check from McDonald's. He and his wife also run a house cleaning business to supplement their income. Jemere works at a McDonald's in downtown Los Angeles. Four days each week, he takes a 45-minute bus ride to staff the early morning shift. He says he does not fear his activism will lead to retribution from the company.

Jemere was kind enough to spend some time with us this morning at the rally in downtown Los Angeles.

Why are you striking today?

In my time working with McDonald's, I've just witnessed some things that are just not right, especially the conditions for workers. So I am out here taking a stand and fighting for change. We are underpaid, undervalued, and disrespected. When you get to work, you want to feel like you're appreciated. That the work you do is appreciated. You want to be able to come to work, feel like that, and then go home without the uncertainty that you'll be able to work the next day.

How many strikes like this have you participated in?

This is my fourth strike.

What do you do at McDonald's?

I do whatever is needed at the time. It could be on the grill. It could be on the drive thru. It could be at the counter. It's pretty much you clock in, throw your hands in the air, and get ready for the day.

Sometimes for me, the hardest part is before I even get to work. When I wake up and I realize I'm going to work at a place that doesn't appreciate me. Man, that's the hardest part -- just getting to work.

Why do you think the company does not value workers?

The environment is created by the corporation. What happens is they undervalue the employees, and that attitude gets passed on to the rest of the company. If you're not clear, as a company, that people should be respected, no one is going to be respected.

What's it like living on a McDonald's salary?

It's very hard to live on this salary. You pretty much know that you start in the red. As soon as I get my check, I already know that it's not enough. So I have to take care of what's the most pressing matter at that time and then think of ways to fill that financial void.

I have no personal money. I have a four-month-old baby, and I'm also married. So there's like no personal money for small things. Like going to Starbucks to get a grande latte. Not happening. Those type of things. The most pressing things are having food in the house, diapers, that stuff. I barely have enough to get those -- I have to ask for help from friends, family, and public assistance to even cover those basics. As of right now, I'm not getting food assistance, but, over the course of my time working with McDonald's, I have had to ask for it.

Jemere Calhoun (2)

What type of alternatives do you have to earn money when the McDonald's check is not enough?

Pretty much any odd job you can think of, I've done it. Phone banking. Moving. Collecting Boxes. Cleaning houses. If certain things don't open up, I scroll Craigslist for people who need any kind of labor. Whatever I can do to provide for my family and help my family.

How are your hours? Can you rely on getting them each week?

[Our hours] are very unpredictable. They change from week-to-week, day-to-day, sometimes even hour-to-hour. You could be off one day, and then they call you and say they need you to come in. But then they treat you like you were scheduled that day.

McDonald's Strike - Los Angeles, 12/4/14

Do you have health insurance?

No. My child is covered through the government.

Have one of your bosses ever said anything to you about these strikes?

Never. I've never spoken to a supervisor about the strikes. But when you come back in the day after the strike, you see all eyes on you. You can feel it. But I've never been directly approached.

What do your co-workers think about this strike?

My colleagues are very supportive of me. Some come out with us. Some silently encourage us. We talk about this stuff all of the time and when they see these strikes, they understand the movement is real, that this is not just one person talking. They get really interested and want to find out more. When they see changes, like in Seattle where they got $15-an-hour, they start putting it together that things are happening.

Do you think things will work out and that you will eventually get the pay you think you deserve?

Well, I'm forever the optimist. So I hope and I pray and I believe that I will continue to be promoted and continue to get my raises.