Jack Tame: Dreadful food and woeful wages

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

You've got to be desperate to eat at White Castle. As someone who loves a junk binge as much as the next, someone who hasn't hesitated in the past to devour deep-fried pig anus or sheep-brain sandwiches, I sternly urge you to save yourself the steel-wool shower.

White Castle is the home of sliders; a sort of mini burger often served with no vegetables or cheese. It's one of America's cheapest and saddest fast-food chains and during my teenage brother's recent visit to the States, I gamely accompanied him to an outpost for a bit of vicarious self-loathing.

Ask yourself what you'd expect to pay for two miscellaneous meat sliders at an American fast-food restaurant. Frank paid $1.56.

Of course, not all burger-and-fries joints in America are quite so cheap but, even off the back of a global recession, most of the big chains are doing just fine. McDonald's made more than US$6 billion ($7 billion) last year.

But in the fast-food nation, chains are taking increasing flak for their employees' McWoeful employment conditions.

US$8.69 ($10.07) is the average hourly wage of a frontline American fast-food worker. More than half rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs.

In New York, they walked off the job this week, in protests replicated in 150 cities worldwide. Here and in more than 30 countries employees are demanding a minimum fast-food wage of US$15 an hour.

When I stopped by the Manhattan protest and explained to one striking McDonald's employee that I was from New Zealand, the woman was delighted. "That's amazing!" she said. "McDonald's in that country is leading the way for making workers better off."

Our minimum wage is still below $15, but Unite's successful negotiations with McDonald's are seen by burger-flippers in New York as a benchmark in collective action.

No one wins with a $1.56 slider. Not the cow. Not the guy serving it. And, as I'm sure my brother will attest, not the guy eating it, either.

• Jack Tame is on Newstalk ZB, Saturdays 9am-noon

- Herald on Sunday

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