26 April 2006

Ronald and Me.

There is currently a lot of discussion about McDonalds over at GuardianUnlimited.

I used to work at McDonalds (admittedly 18 years ago) so I know a little about what a Mcjob was like (and I'm interested to hear whether it has changed much - I doubt it has). Like millions of other teenagers like me, it was a job that was easily available in a period of high unemployment. I soon found out why.

I remember being crew member number 77 on the roster when I started. After just 8 months there, I was crew member number 6, so I was the sixth longest serving member of staff after just 8 months! I think that tells you a lot about the conditions there.

This was before the minimum wage, so I was paid £2.20 an hour. I remember looking despairingly at my payslip one week, I had taken home £78 for TWO weeks full time work (we were paid fortnightly)! Luckily one of the other crew members had warned me in the first week to be meticulous about my pay and keep a diary of hours worked to make sure I was paid properly for them. Apparently the managers were notorious for paying short, even on this pittance of a pay. I remember having to clock on and off for 15 minute breaks, they were even too tight to pay for short breaks. I remember not taking ANY holiday in the 8 months I worked there in a desperate effort to earn money. If I hadn't been still living with my parents it would have been impossible.

Funnily enough I do remember the place being quite meticulously clean. There was the odd bun dropped on the floor that was put back in place, but it was rare. The dirtiest thing I remember was the dirt and gunk that used to come out of the shake machines when we cleaned them on a Sunday. I used to like shakes, but after seeing that I would only have one on a Monday after the machine had been cleaned.

Working there also gave me the opportunity to look at the contents of the food by examining the boxes of patties as we stacked them in the freezer. The bleach to colour the Fillet of Fish didn't sound too appetising!

After a few weeks of working there I soon got sick (almost literally) of the food and started taking my own sandwiches (a few others followed me - I started a trend that got me a slight rebuke from my manager, but even McDonalds could hardly sack someone for that). The allowance for an 8 hour shift was usually enough for a big mac, fries and drink, but I was spotty enough so I decided against it.

I remember the fantastic hostility to unions. We were informed on our first day that anyone caught with union material would face instant dismissal. I was not sure how legal this was. I heard McDonalds even closed down a branch in Canada that had managed to unionise. To this day there is no unionisation at McDonalds.

I also remember the customers, the gigantic woman who came in every morning at 9am for the quarter pounder with cheese and large fries. She was so obnoxious in her attitude to us that I remember one of the other crew members gobbing a greeny in her fries and we all watching in horror as she guzzled it all down with aplomb. It is a warning to us all, never piss off those staff who are preparing your food. There were a lot of abusive customers and one way or another they got their comeuppance. Lets just say there were stories and legends, none of which I hasten to add was anything to do with me.

Then there was the Smiths fan in a 'meat is murder' T-shirt who ordered a Big Mac. I just couldn't believe it, how could he do it?

Apart from being unable to get rid of the smell of burgers when I went home in the evening (sometimes at 2am either having to walk 3 miles home or share a taxi that cost me 2 hours pay - I chose to walk - eventually cycle). And apart from the burn marks on my arms (we all used to compare our burns) and the useless pay, and being so glad my ordeal was over after 8 months (this was my first job and I was naive, but even I figured that this job was bad).

Apart from all that I do have some fond memories of the place. The one thing that made the job bearable was the fantastic comradery amongst the staff, few of whom, like me, were older than their teenage years. Thankfully I soon found a better job and left, I still wonder about some of the people there and where they ended up. On my last day there the euphoria was so great, I didn't step foot in a McDonalds for over a year afterwards and only then to visit to see who was still working there. There was still three people there I knew, the cleaning woman and two of the managers. Everybody else had left.

And finally, yes, I did get my five stars!

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