In a sort of sequel to the2006 never-to-be -forgotten furor over Northwest Airlines suggesting its laid off employees could economize by dumpster diving for free stuff, McDonalds U.S. is now in the cross-hairs for recommending employees budget wisely, then suggesting they take on two jobs so they can start with more than twice the money monthly that McDonalds typically pays and choose a health care plan that is less than half the cost of McDonalds lowest paid offering.
This follows closely on a protest demanding McDonalds stop paying employees with prepaid Visa cards that carry high fees (which are deducted from the employees’ earnings). One can say the budget advice isn’t the best PR comeback for what seems to be an unconscionable pay practice in some cases.
Other commentators disagree, proving you can get a debate going on just about anything no matter how dopey. Yes, I understand that making less than McDonalds monthly income suggestion is common and single adult low income workers face some awful choices, but that doesn’t make suggesting your own workers choose a health plan cheaper than any you offer logical. They don’t seem to have advice on where to get such a plan, for instance. The fact the rent they suggest you budget for is likely easily available in only 22 states as this article points out also doesn’t jibe with the fact McDonalds has workers in all 50. What do the rest do?
The pro-McDonalds commentator likes the budget’s suggestion that the employee should be saving, seeing that as their way out of semi-poverty to better paying work. It lauds McDonalds for its generous matching in a 401(k) plan (like an RRSP), which would take more looking into – are we suggesting employees wait till they retire to live decently or is there a vesting catch so hardly anyone stays long enough to actually get the money? If McDonalds is serious in suggesting saving then presumably they’re recommending having a bank account (where direct deposit is a way to eliminate paper cheques without resorting to prepaid cards, at least as an option).
Realistically there isn’t a possibility of saving when every cent has to go on necessities and you still run short. An eye-opening read that’s still quite realistic is Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed. Yes, as a society we should provide ways for people to help themselves get ahead – retraining, lower cost education and more, but does that say is society has to bail out employers who choose not to pay workers as reasonably as possible?
Having worked as an employer in a low-wage industry, as almost all retail is, I can’t throw too many stones. Companies have to survive in order to provide jobs and no matter how you slice it some of those that offer the most jobs for less skilled workers will be hovering at the low margin end of pay scales. You just can’t make as big a profit on a burger as an iPhone. But the key to advising employees better is to be realistic and help them focus on the benefits and trade-offs as they truly are.
Everyone understands that such jobs are very often part time, which means a second job, yours or a family member’s, and shared expenses are probably realistically inevitable if one hopes to live reasonably on the total income. The question becomes not so much how to budget, though, yes, realistic advice in that area could help, but more critically, what jobs or life plans would you pair up with McDonalds part time work or how quickly could you expect to be promoted at McDonalds and what would it take?
In general merchandise retail, for instance, it was at one time common for most full time weekday staff to be moms who were definitely second incomes. No one worked Sundays. As society changed, more of our staff began to be more mixed with very different demographics – students, which would include people who were taking upgrading courses, working more weekend and evening hours, flight attendants (who often worked seasonally, spritzing cosmetics over the Christmas, Valentines and Mothers Day periods after packing their 20 monthly hours of flying into two weeks), aspiring actors who needed to be able to trade a scheduled day to someone else to attend a casting call at short notice and so forth. Trading scheduled days became the norm, providing an early, very flexible form of flex time for appointments with doctors, kids’ schools or sickness and more. What the McDonalds’ parallel might be is open to clarification that might be helpful to prospective workers.
In all of this what is still most fundamentally something we would never do is pay only with prepaid cards that deduct fees from employees pay and try to justify it with arguably weak advice. One key is offering options, since handling money may cost employees whether they keep a bank account, use a prepaid card or an expensive cheque-cashing service. Helping employees find the best deals is also a concrete help in budgeting that some employers seem to care little about. Sometimes employees themselves choose to take on union deductions in hopes bargaining could improve their overall take-home eventually, though it rarely did in my experience, but only a completely short-sighted minimum wage employer would try deducting anything that doesn’t have clear, direct and fairly immediate benefits.
No matter how you slice it there’s a big F there somewhere for Fouled-up Thinking.