OPINION: Working in Missouri

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By GLENN KOENEN

Recent rush hour traffic gave me plenty of time to read the sign boards in front of White Castle at Manchester and Barrett Stations. One said, “Now Hiring $11 Hour.”

That wage probably won’t attract any new workers…

To start with, there aren’t that many people in St. Louis suburbs who can work in a 24/7 restaurant who aren’t already working in a 24/7 joint. I’ve noted on my very late evening walks that a couple of 24/7 fast food restaurants in South County now, quietly, close at midnight some weeknights. I’ve heard the lack of workers is even greater in West County.

And, I still hear from pantry folks that a lack of “after hours” childcare and late day public transportation makes it impossible for most of the few able bodied unemployed to take on those jobs.

BUT THEY LIMIT HOURS
Next, while $11 sounds like real money, most all such places limit workers to around 20 hours a week – and never over the 30 hours a week that could legally create a full-time worker. That $220 a week won’t cover even a dinky $550 a month apartment and utilities.

And, well, many of these “McJob” employers treat their workers poorly. In a national survey, 40 percent of women in fast food reported being sexually harassed.

It’s common to work employees split shifts – give them four hours a day with a couple of hours of break between clock times. Plus, pile on everyday dehumanizing things such as managers who won’t even give each worker their own nametag. (I saw a “Dollie” who looked like Mizzou could dress him out as a linebacker at an outstate restaurant this year.)

SITUATION IS  WORSE OUTSTATE
Out in rural Missouri it’s worse.

Where $10 an hour seems to be the unofficial wage floor in greater St. Louis, in most of Missouri most fast food jobs pay about the current state minimum wage of $8.60 an hour. That “20 hour” rules still applies, so, imagine struggling to survive on $172 a week before Social Security and state tax. (Good news: with the minimum jumping to $9.45 on January 1 that paycheck climbs to $189 a week!)

JUST GET TWO McJOBS!
Wait a minute, if one job won’t pay the bills, just get two.

That’s what one southeast Missouri mom decided. Getting just 15 or so hours a week at one chain restaurant, she took a position down the road at a second, getting another 16 to 20 hours a week.

Alas, her first employer promptly fired her. Missouri being at ‘at will’ state they didn’t offer a real reason – though she heard she was “disloyal” for working at a “competitor.” She tried to get unemployment because of the drop in her income, but, this being Missouri, she lost.

GET READY
Now over the next few weeks the Republican propaganda machine will churn-out all sorts of justification for the harsher enforcement of the “must work for food stamps” rule. They might even find some able-bodied adult thankful that the government made them take a part-time McJob.

Please remember, in the real world life often gets hard. And, in many places in Missouri and other states jobs – and/or workers – just aren’t there.

(Glenn Koenen is the retired executive director, Circle of Concern; member JwJ Workers Rights Board; member, Empower Missouri Board of Directors and chairs their Hunger Taskforce.)

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