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Fast-Food CEOs Making 1,200 Times Workers’ Wages Have No Idea What Their Greed Does To Employees

Three McDonald's workers reveal how they survive, while fighting for higher wages and a union.

Photo Credit: Stand Up KC


A grand canyon of inequality exists between fast food CEOs and the workers who make their corporate and personal fortunes. In the past decade, fast-food CEOs’ wages have increased more than 400 percent, while workers wages increased 0.3 percent, according to a new report by Demos.

The result is that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is now 1,200-to-one, with the average fast food CEO salary at $23.8 million in 2013 and the average worker salary at $19,000. This ratio is more than quadruple what’s typically found in the nation’s economy, which continues on its path of increasing economic disparity.

Another new report by the National Employment Law Project found that there are now 1.85 million more low-wage jobs than before the Great Recession, but 2 million fewer jobs in mid- and high-wage industries, confirming the slide down the economic ladder.  

While we can comprehend the big picture behind these figures, it is another thing to see what this inequality looks like for people stuck in low-wage jobs. Below are the experiences of three McDonalds workers who are trying to survive, while fighting for higher wages and a union.

Marie Sanders

When she was 17, Marie Sanders took a job at McDonald’s in Kansas City, MO, making $7.25 an hour, because she needed to start covering her own expenses. Soon after, she decided to make a budget to account for these expenses and realized something was off: the managers were clocking her out for breaks she didn’t take—which is wage theft.

“I was 17 years old and I had problems at home, so I needed to budget my money in order to pay my expenses,” Marie said. “I just stumbled upon it. I would ask my manager for printouts of my time. And that’s when I had noticed that I had been clocked out for days that I did not take breaks. And it would be hour-breaks at that.”

Marie said she was never paid back for this wage theft, and after a few weeks, managers stopped giving her printouts all together, saying she’d get them later. But later never came. While these problems didn’t follow her when she was transferred to another McDonald’s, the difficulties with low wages did not go away.

Marie, who’s now 20, makes $7.75 an hour. Though she works full-time, it’s still nearly impossible for her and her nine-month-old daughter to survive on the $900 or so she brings home each month. Her rent is $495 each month. She needs to pay for utilities as well as childcare, which is $120 every other week. She receives $122 worth of food stamps each month from the government, which mostly goes to baby formula costing $20 a can. Marie said she goes hungry to save money.

“I feel like if I eat, I won't be able to pay my electric bill,” she said. “Or if I eat, I won’t be able to make rent. Or if I eat, my daughter won’t be able to get those new sneakers she needs.… I have to sacrifice myself completely.”

Marie had to sacrifice even when she was pregnant, as she worked until she was nine months and three weeks. During that period, she received no accommodations from her employer. “It was as if I wasn’t pregnant at all,” Marie said. “I was in the grill, in the heat.… I held about every position there.”

She started her six weeks of maternity leave five days before her daughter was born. “I didn’t have any other choice,” Marie said. “I needed the money. I needed to prepare for my baby.”