By Meg Murphy
Its a Sunday night at a McDonalds on Queens Boulevard in
Elmhurst, and Dorian Davis is watching his crew: Get the customers
in and out, wrap those burgers and fries, load Big Macs onto that conveyer
belt for the drive-through. Faster!
Davis is a sweet-faced young man of 17, but he knows what it takes
to get ahead. McDonalds didnt promote him from his start
pay of $5.15 an hour to his current $5.70 for nothing.
Its not as easy as it looks working at McDonalds, said
Davis, a recent graduate of Queens Vocational High School. Weekend evenings can
bring in a solid rush of customers from noon until nine
at night, requiring a staff of over a dozen crew members just to keep
Tonight the cheery purple and blue tables are filled with families,
teenagers and a few couples, each of whom have ordered at least three
food items apiece. Davis glances around the restaurant, apprehensively
eyeing a coughing toddler who is taking a reckless swig from his Grimace
styrofoam cup. The child starts coughing, and Davis watches until the
mother has set things straight with a few slaps on the back. The demands
on a McDonalds manager are constant.
This is a good job when youre still at home with Mommy,
Davis said with a self-deprecating laugh. He works five or six days
a week and refers to his earnings as good for pocket change.
But it is a job that Davis approaches with pride. He straightens his
McDonalds tie, one of three such corporate gifts, and smoothes
out the creases in his navy blue and white-striped McDonalds shirt.
People think its a free ride here, but its not. They
think its McDonalds and not a real job. Their first busy
day cracks them, and then they see what it means to work at McDonalds.
Despite the low pay, Davis says workers appreciate what he calls a
family atmosphere at McDonalds. He says it can help the
crew deal with the stress of indecisive customers and long hours, and,
oddly enough, has even helped them joke off their fear of death on the
job. In June 1999, the restaurant was one of five fast food places in
Queens robbed by a former fast food employee named John Taylor. No one
was harmed, but employees were alarmed one year later, when the same
man, along with friend Craig Godineaux, allegedly killed five employees
at a Wendys on Main Street in Flushing. The robbers forced seven
employees into the basement freezer, forced plastic bags over their
heads, and shot them execution-style. It was the worst mass shooting
in New York City since 1995.
It really weirded us out around here. People were talking about
it. I think everyone felt like, Hey, that could have been us,
said Davis. He was relieved when employees began trading jokes to take
the edge off, and he says that now all seems well. Its
good. They can focus on the job.
An increase to the minimum wage, says Davis, would go a long way in
acknowledging the hard work that people in the fast food industry do
every day. At his restaurant, teenagers make up the majority of the
staff of about 40 workers. Davis doesnt know how workers who dont
live at home manage to pay their rent, although he says the older workers
have earned promotions to salaries over minimum wage. People here
work hard. It takes focus and discipline. It takes something to make
it at McDonalds.
Meg Murphy, formerly a freelance writer in New York City, is
now working for the Cape Cod Times in Hyannis, MA. This is an
edited version of an article that originally appeared in the Gotham
Gazette (6/26/00). You can read the original and more articles at www.gothamgazette.com.
Reprinted with permission.