Last Updated:October 24 @ 10:15 pm

Fast-food worker strike coming to Los Angeles

By Los Angeles Times

The fight for higher fast-food wages is coming to Los Angeles.
Just a few days before Labor Day, restaurant workers plan to walk off the job at big-name chains around Southern California to demand $15-an-hour pay, according to organizers.

The protests, part of a nationwide day of strikes called for Aug. 29, would be the latest in a series of one-day, rolling walkouts that have occurred in major cities in recent weeks. Workers have picketed McDonald's, KFC and Taco Bell and other restaurants during peak mealtimes to demand better pay and the right to organize.

Bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union in concert with community groups, the protests are focusing attention on a group of low-income workers whose numbers are growing fast. They are also part of a drive to pressure Congress to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which has not increased in four years. President Obama has supported an effort to raise the minimum wage to $9.

"You can stimulate the economy by lifting up one of the largest employment sectors in the country," SEIU spokesman Ray Pok said. "This would raise their standard of living."

Pok said he expected hundreds of pickets to show up on Aug. 29 in Los Angeles to protest at McDonald's locations. Wendy's and Taco Bell are also potential targets, he said.

The effort has played well on social media at a time when U.S. income inequality is growing. Many low-wage service workers earn so little that they qualify for food stamps and taxpayer-financed healthcare.

But fast-food chains are firing back.

Scott DeFife, spokesman for the National Restaurant Assn., said that most fast-food workers earned more than the minimum wage and that many of the jobs were held by students and part-timers. He said the protests were a publicity stunt by SEIU, which had yet to organize any of the major chains.

"There's ample evidence that this is not an organic thing but ... a bit of orchestrated theater," DeFife said. "Union representation is down at a historical low in this country, so it's not surprising that they're making another attempt to press for membership."

But for Bartolome Perez, 42, the main priority is covering his family's bills. The Los Angeles resident and McDonald's worker plans to join the protests.

Perez, a native of El Salvador, has worked at a Mid-City outpost of the burger chain for more than two decades, serving as a janitor and a cook. His last raise -- a 50-cent bump to $10.75 an hour -- came five years ago.

Perez lives with his daughter and wife, who work part time. Together, they struggle to afford their $1,000 monthly rent, $220 car payment, $200 food costs and other expenses.

"We live by miracles," he said through an interpreter. "We have to watch every cent."

It's a story that's familiar in the fast-food industry, which employs about 3.7 million workers.

In protests that began in New York City in November, an effort compared to Occupy Wall Street, workers are calling for better pay. They've been backed by several advocacy groups and worker coalitions, including Fast Food Forward and Fight for 15. Actions have sprung up in Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and other cities in recent weeks.

In Southern California, the Central American Resource Center and several women's and clergy groups are helping to organize the local effort. With its immigrant-heavy population and scattered geography, the L.A. area had been a tough one to rally until protests in the Eastern U.S. started gaining momentum, said Lewis Logan II, an organizer and pastor of the Ruach Christian Community Fellowship of Los Angeles.

"The elements were always there for action," Logan said. "There just wasn't the spark."

McDonald's said in a statement that the protests didn't provide "an accurate picture of what it means to work" at the chain.

"McDonald's aims to offer competitive pay and benefits to our employees," the company said. "We provide training and professional development for all of those who wish to take advantage of those opportunities."

But a July study from the National Employment Law Project found that few fast-food workers advance to management ranks. Frontline positions, which pay a median hourly wage of $8.94, make up 89% of all industry jobs. Supervisors, who earn $13.06 an hour, account for 8.7%. Managers fill the tiny remaining percentage.

Food service workers and bar employees hold six of the 10 lowest-paid jobs tracked by the government, splitting the list with salon shampooers and amusement park attendants.

More than 300,000 people have signed a Change.org petition urging fast-food companies to stop paying workers with fee-loaded debit cards. The charges -- for cash withdrawals, balance inquiries and even inactivity -- often push earnings below minimum wage, activists said.

And with Obama's healthcare reforms looming, many workers said their restaurants were starting to hire more part-time workers while shaving off hours from existing employees.

But some critics say the protests may do more damage than good -- if they amount to anything at all.

Fast-food workers have long struggled to form unions, according to Ed Wertheim, an associate business professor at Northeastern University. Employees cycle in and out of the industry at "tremendously high" rates -- greater than 75% turnover each year, he said.

"The mind-set among the vast majority of these workers is that they're not going to be in it for the long haul as a career," he said. "And they're certainly viewed as being easily replaceable."

If activists manage to substantially raise the minimum wage, workers' jobs could be at stake, according to the right-leaning Employment Policies Institute. Eateries forced to pay higher salaries could start swapping human labor for cheaper automated technology, the group said.

And costs could rise along the fast-food supply chain as workers in the fuel, cleaning and agriculture industries also benefited from a federal minimum wage hike, DeFife said. Two-thirds of a typical restaurant's expenses come from labor and food costs.

"A $15-an-hour minimum wage is just not a realistic scenario in this industry, or virtually any industry," DeFife said.

El Pollo Loco cashier Jose Puac Peneleu said he'd be happy with $11.50 an hour.

The 23-year-old lives in Arleta with his sister, her infant and their mother and commutes five days a week to a Sherman Oaks strip mall.

Peneleu, a Guatemalan immigrant, was hired five years ago when he was a recent high school graduate and living in the country without legal status. Since then, his hourly wage has increased only $1.65, to $10.15.

Each month, Peneleu's pay goes to his $110 phone bill and $75 car insurance payment. He and his sister, a manager at another El Pollo Loco, split his family's $120 grocery list and $800-a-month rent.

He keeps trying to open a savings account, he said, but has nothing to put in it.

Now, he spends all of his free time looking for another job. He received residency papers in February. His goal: a position at a casual or fine dining establishment, where employees can earn tips.

"Of course I deserve more money," he said. "Minimum wage is not going to help me go anywhere."

___

(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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41 Comments

  1. popstComment by popst
    August 22, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    “You can stimulate the economy by lifting up one of the largest employment sectors in the country,” SEIU spokesman Ray Pok said. “This would raise their standard of living.” What a line of ****. The SEIU is only looking to add union dues to their coffer. Maybe the union could cut back on their dues so the the employee could take home more of their paycheck. WON’T HAPPEN

    If you don’t like what you’re making, go back to school or go to a trade school to learn a higher paying skill. Most of these jobs are for high-school aged kids who live at home. If you were a high-school drop out, all we can say is “We Told You So.” You didn’t believe your parents or the school officials. Too bad.

    I’m sorry, but $15 an hour for asking if you want cheese on your burger is a little out of range. My first job in 1964 was as a dish washer for $1 an hour. I was just happy to get a pay check.

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    • mvotano58Comment by mvotano58
      August 22, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

      My first job was in the snack bar at a discount store….minimum wage was $1.98 in 1976. I did get tips but I was 17 and sure as the sun shines had absolutely no intention of making that a career.

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  2. barrymustgoComment by barrymustgo
    August 22, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Quoting:

    “Each month, Peneleu’s pay goes to his $110 phone bill and $75 car insurance payment. He and his sister, a manager at another El Pollo Loco, split his family’s $120 grocery list and $800-a-month rent.”

    His complete family spends $120.00 a month on groceries, yet he spends $110.00 a month on his phone bill”??? Why? I have a Verizon, “pay as you go” phone, which I deposit $100.00 once a year. I only use it for “meaningful” calls, not social media “drivel”! ADVICE: Get some priorities! You do not NEED a $110.00 a month phone. That is ridiculous! Get some priorities. Hey, I know, ….. use that $110.00 a month on some night classes, so you can advance beyond “fast food worker” DUH!

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    • listenorleaveComment by listenorleave
      August 22, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

      Page Plus costs $12.95 a month for a cell phone.
      Notice how many of these are illegals? Obama and Holder are practically guaranteeing more illegals more working tax payer taxes for more freebies. California is just starting to reap the penalties for not enforcing our immigration laws on employers or illegals.
      Unions sell strikes for more dues for their management elites’ large salaries.

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    • goodshotComment by goodshot
      August 22, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

      Shoot why would they pay a cell phone bill when you can get the “New Amazing Obama Phone” at any phone store without any restrictions. I need to look into one of those, hell so what if they listen in. They do that on the one I pay for now anyway.

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      Rating: 4.5/5 (15 votes cast)
    • shafawnComment by shafawn
      August 22, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

      goodshot
      I thought it was ridiculous Obama gave away ‘Obama cell phones’ and now he wants to hike up a new tax for cell phones. Nothing in this life is “free”.

      Unless you are one of the many radical Muslim countries getting 320 billion dollars a year pay off money from Obama. That is apparently “free”

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    • makesenseComment by makesense
      August 22, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

      I have a family plan that provides for a cell phones for 4 people for a monthly charge of $92. He can get a family plan with his sister for $60+10 or $70 a month for an average of $35. He can put the difference in a savings account.

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      Rating: 4.3/5 (9 votes cast)
  3. shafawnComment by shafawn
    August 22, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Fire everyone who strikes.. end of strike.

    Jobs are TOO hard to come by to do this but hey California isn’t known for their razor sharp acumen.

    I worked fast food at age 16 with no experience and little training so it’s not a job that requires 15.00 per hour.

    California wishes money would just fall out of trees and land in their laps and mountains were made of chocolate and all the jails were made of rubber …
    Land of the fruits and nuts

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    • wallybluComment by wallyblu
      August 22, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

      Your first alternative is correct. If there aren’t enough people waiting for those jobs then we don’t need the fast food places. Those fired fast food workers will have to find somewhere else to eat, the rest of us will get along just fine.

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    • sumitchComment by sumitch
      August 22, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

      I was a car hop during the summer after finishing high school. We got 75 cents/hour and half price food.

      Let ‘em eat Big Macs.

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  4. americanbearComment by americanbear
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Maybe they can go back to their home countries and make more money. Anyone who works 2 decades at a fast food place deserves what they are getting paid. Get some education and improve your self. Anyone who is paying more for his telephone that the family groceries each month is, well, an idiot.

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    • jerseyconservativeComment by jerseyconservative
      August 22, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

      Perez has been in the US 20 years — and STILL needs an interpreter to communicate? Now that’s assimilation…..

      There is a bottom of the food chain (pardon the pun). Perez is on the bottom, and has done NOTHING to move himself up if he’s not even speaking English after 20 years of immersion. Perhaps his wife and/or daughter will make that step.

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    • BobinmsComment by Bobinms
      August 22, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

      Isn’t it amazing that the SEIU and the National Chamber of commerce (fronting for McDonalds) wrote the senate immigration bill. There has to come a time when the Republicans and McDonalds finally realize that illegal immigration can’t continue without consequences. We are seeing that here.

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  5. WardMDComment by WardMD
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    Great!

    I CAN’T WAIT to plow through the picket lines!

    I don’t usually go to McDonalds (or any other fast food establishment), but I’ll DEFINATELY make an exception for this one (JUST like I did in support of Chic-Fil-A)!

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    • shafawnComment by shafawn
      August 22, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

      It’s funny California vilified fast food and now let’s see how they support the idea of ‘unionized fast food employees’.

      They love strikes.. they support unions but they hate fast food.. I bet the left coast is twitterpated

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      Rating: 4.1/5 (17 votes cast)
  6. cxComment by genesal
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

    I went to Viet Nam in 1968 and received $65 combat pay tax free plus my monthly pay check which came to around 45-50 dollars a month (after taxes). That’s slightly over 100 dollars a month for 12 hour shifts (plus 1 hour before shift and 2 hours after) seven days a week, so the hours on a non-eventful week were just over 105 hours. That came out to about 25 cents per DAY.

    So let them strike, let them hole up in McDees and let them eat big macs. They’re overpriced as it is. I have no pity for them. If they were citizens they could start around $18,000 a year in the Service and 20,000+ shortly thereafter.

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    • mvotano58Comment by mvotano58
      August 22, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

      Thank you for your service.

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    • sumitchComment by sumitch
      August 22, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

      genesal, if you went to the bush in 1968 it was heavy money to get that combat pay. I went there at the end of ’67 but had a leg up, I got jump pay (don’t ask me why) and went as a butter bar. There had to be someone on the bottom of the pile and that turned out to be me. I remember when The Green Berets came out with John Wayne. There was a scene it in that provoked a guy in front of me at the theater to die laughing saying “Cheese Whiz and Ritz crackers in Nam. I’ve seen everything”. I’ll have that memory for the rest of my life.

      Welcome home brother.

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    • cxComment by genesal
      August 22, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

      Good story brother! Welcome home to you.
      The first one to welcome me home was a pow wow (30 years later) where they were celebrating 5 Native Americans who had won Medals of Honor. They let me dance in the pow wow dance circle.

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    • sumitchComment by sumitch
      August 22, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

      There’s a town about 65 miles north of me, Gainesville, Texas, who is the first Medal of Honor city in the country. Every year they invite every holder of the medal to come to the city and be honored (not all are able to come). You get a chance to meet them in person and shake their hand. Not a one of them is any different than you or me. They mostly will tell you that they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not a braggart in the bunch. After the festivities it’s really something to read their citations (you have to get the book or look them up on the web).

      Pretty humbling

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  7. wedeyComment by wedey
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    I guess these people haven’t learned anything from the Hostess Twinkie company. They refused to give in to demands and they would rather file bankruptcy. How brave they were.
    All the employees were out of jobs and when the new company bought them out, they said no union workers. No one is forcing you to work a company that you disagree with. If this happens in and around Columbus, Ohio, I will offer to work the kitchen and counters for free until these idiots come to their senses.

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    Rating: 3.9/5 (16 votes cast)
  8. wedeyComment by wedey
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    Oh and I want to say that as soon as Obama gets his way with the illegals wanting to come here, they will be glad to get a job and they probably won’t care what the wages are. However, I know that many of them will work hard and try and better themselves.

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    Rating: 1.8/5 (12 votes cast)
  9. jenerseaComment by jenersea
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

    Tell them to go to La Raza and have them give them some money. I am sure they will help them out and all the rest of the illegal invasion army there.

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  10. bufodogComment by bufodog
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

    I work for Safeway. They can’t get or keep new hires here, because they pay these people squat with few hours. They also expect full time availability. Then management complains how they’re top heavy with journeyman clerks with old school benefit perks. I plan on keeping a part time gig here for the benefits & pension, while working in my field full time where there are no benefits. Management pushes & the workers push back or just walk. Yes I belong to labor union & I’m a political conservative.
    P.S. Obama is Turkey! And Hillary is Turkey in waiting.

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    • shafawnComment by shafawn
      August 22, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

      The alternative is the destruction of privately owned business. That’s what this administration wants.

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  11. westtexaslibraryladyComment by westtexaslibrarylady
    August 22, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

    What is this mentality that if you stay you should get raises? In order for the market to “work” the pay scale should reflect the value of the work provided. You become a value-added employee when you gain experience and knowledge. Doing the same thing for 10 years and not adding to your skill set does not make you more valuable to your employer.

    Start at the bottom and work up to more responsibility and more money — NOT start at the bottom and stay at the bottom and get more money. You get prizes for showing up when you’re a preschooler, not when you’re an adult.

    College isn’t always feasible, but for many it’s a start. The military is a risky, yet good means for some (my husband and I both started in the military, so did our daughter) to gain some job skills while earning a decent wage. The “bottom” isn’t supposed to be comfortable or easy.

    If those burger-flippers think they’re so valuable that they’ll bring the industry to its knees and it will cave to their demands, then they’re in for a rude shock. There are hundreds of inexperienced, hard-working, and ambitious potential employees standing in line just waiting for the chance at a low-paying job that will give them a start.

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  12. chamuielComment by chamuiel
    August 22, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    Solution for Mr. Perez.

    Go home to El Salvador.

    I bet you won’t make $10.75 an hour there.

    No one asked you to come to this country with limited skills, and education.

    You are holding down a job, an American teenage citizen should have.

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    • BobinmsComment by Bobinms
      August 22, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

      YES!

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  13. chamuielComment by chamuiel
    August 22, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    “Peneleu, a Guatemalan immigrant, was hired five years ago when he was a recent high school graduate and living in the country without legal status.”

    An illegal lien.

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  14. chamuielComment by chamuiel
    August 22, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

    “Peneleu, a Guatemalan immigrant,”

    One of obama’s dreamers. Must have been valedictorian of his class.

    I can see his commencement speech now,

    “You can make a better burger.”

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  15. theronaldComment by theronald
    August 22, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    Okay, pay $15.00 per hour – and fire half of them. The ones who don’t get fired will have twice the work to do in order to earn the higher pay.

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  16. verityComment by verity
    August 22, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

    “If I had a son, he would be just like Jose Puac Peneleu”.

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  17. thedoveComment by thedove
    August 22, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    >> Employees cycle in and out of the industry at “tremendously high” rates — greater than 75% turnover each year, he said. <<

    Umm … Psst … That's the way it works, hombre. You work at these jobs until you can move on to something better, then leave and improve your lot in life. If one were supposed to reach middle class by flipping burgers, community colleges would have "Fries 101" in their curricula.

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  18. georgiagalComment by georgiagal
    August 22, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    All companies should move out of any state/city that adopts the new wage or union. As mentioned previously by others, minimum wage jobs are starter jobs and usually held by teenagers. Flipping burgers does not require great skills and is not worth the wages of skilled workers.

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    • sumitchComment by sumitch
      August 22, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

      I think I remember reading that Mickey Dee did just that.

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  19. middlegroundComment by middleground
    August 22, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    Our so called federal government has tried hard to keep our own nation’s teenagers from these burger-flipping jobs using various agencies like OSHA, just so some illegal from Guatemala could get a job that didn’t require any skills or the ability to understand English.

    All of us who were teenagers prior to JFKs and LBJs great society knew we had to work and we also didn’t plan to be burger flippers for life. We’ve had a flood of illegals coming from countries where the rich are fabulously rich and the poor are extremely poor, but our government has failed to act for the best interests of its own citizens and allowed this flood of illegals to arrive and work, both on and off the books. We’ve even had politicians demand we change our language, our customs, our laws and our nation to make them feel happy. My feelings are that if you didn’t come as an individual to become part of America, stay home. We don’t need more burger flippers, gang members or people still loyal to their country of origin, whatever it may be, and we certainly don’t need more people on welfare because they joined the union and struck for higher wages, thus forcing the burger joint to close.

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  20. WardMDComment by WardMD
    August 22, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

    FIRST, Mr. Peneleu, might I suggest you DROP the $110/Month Cell Phone, and get a CHEAP Land-Line Phone for your house (Hey, you can get “MagicJack” for something like $20 a YEAR [see Radio Shack and/or Best Buy]).

    THEN you’d have over $100/Month to SAVE

    Second, I’m curious… “Peneleu, a Guatemalan immigrant, was hired five years ago when he was a recent high school graduate and living in the country without legal status” – WHERE were you working ILLEGALLY?

    WHO hired you “without legal status”?

    Were you paying TAXES on that money?

    WHOSE Social Security Number/Identity did you STEAL in order to get hired?

    What makes you think you “DESERVE” a raise? What SKILLS do YOU possess (that is SO VALUABLE to Pollo Loco [or any other employer]) that warrants YOU getting a raise?

    Just BEING THERE for a period of time DOES NOT equate to added VALUE to the company!

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  21. glennComment by glenn
    August 22, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

    I know they already have machines that can cook and flip burgers without any humans involved plus touch pads that eliminate the cashier. So almost the whole business could be automated. If this continues watch out it will be coming.

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    • WardMDComment by WardMD
      August 23, 2013 @ 10:09 am

      AND, I’ve seen some McDonalds with Coin Changers (like you often see at grocery stores) to dispense the correct change FOR THE CASHIER at the drive-through window.

      Now, that COULD be for “efficiency” (keeping the drive-through moving faster) – BUT, I’m guessing it’s because these “workers” simply CAN’T MAKE CHANGE properly (aka, can’t do SIMPLE arithmetic)!

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  22. ElderAmbassadorComment by ElderAmbassador
    August 23, 2013 @ 3:36 am

    Ho Hum! Pay them $30 per hour and close all of the fast food restaurants.

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  23. glennComment by glenn
    August 24, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    Ward you are right McDonald’s long ago put pictures on the keys of the register because the cashiers were too dumb to put in the correct prices.

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