Essential Fast-Food Workers in a Time of Crisis

Essential Fast-Food Workers in a Time of Crisis

Phillicia Teitge, Reporter

Due to COVID-19, all non-essential businesses have been closed or are having their employees work from home. With only essential businesses open, that means that there are also a lot of people out of jobs. That is not so for many fast-food workers who attend DeForest Area High School. 


Who Is “Essential”?

ABC reported that on March 23rd Tony Evers, Governor of Wisconsin, put a “Safer at Home” order in place. This order shuts down all non-essential businesses in the state, and is in place until Friday, April 24 unless extended or shortened. This order, however, does not mean that these workers are still receiving paychecks. Some businesses are shutting with paid time off (PTO) or with no pay at all. 

Essential workers, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, are “workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure viability. These workers would be food and agriculture, telecommunications, law enforcement, call centers, and many more.”

This means that people who work in fast-food are also supposed to continue working like normal. However, many fast-food workers are experiencing their hours being cut. Workers whose hours aren’t being cut are often being sent home early to keep labor costs low. Culver’s is handing out papers to their employees saying that they are an essential worker and to please allow them to come to and from work. Although it wasn’t specifically stated why the sheets are being handed out, there’s a general belief in the restaurant that this is in case a worker gets pulled over and are questioned why they are out.

DeForest’s Essential Fast-Food Workers

Among the essential workers holding down local business, three students at DeForest Area High School gave the Jefferson Street Journal their thoughts on three major topics: Normalcy of work schedule, concern about catching the virus, and hypocrisy over essential yet low-skill workers putting their lives on the line to serve customers. 

Collin, an employee at McDonald’s in DeForest, expressed that he was not scared of catching COVID-19 from a customer. Although the restaurant business has been slow, he is still receiving his same hours, as he is one of the more experienced workers there. Regarding the hypocrisy of “teenager” jobs being some of the few essential positions open, Collin responded he sees no hypocrisy, simply saying, “It’s a good start for anybody to get an easy job experience.” 

Kayla, an employee at Culver’s in DeForest, has had her hours cut, and does not fear catching COVID-19 from a customer. She said that there isn’t much she can do about the coronavirus going around. She made it abundantly clear that she did not feel comfortable answering about whether people are being hypocritical during this tough time.

Kassidy, an assistant manager at Culver’s in DeForest, said that she wasn’t scared of catching the virus or infecting her family, coworkers, and friends. Kassidy explained that she’s young and likely to survive but her boyfriend, who has diabetes, may not be as lucky. She went into detail about how things in the restaurant changed. They had to shut down the lobby, frequently sanitize surfaces that people touch, wear and change gloves frequently, on top of many other changes. Kassidy went on about how she was surprised by the fact that sales haven’t changed much compared to previous years. She’s glad that many people go out of their way to continue supporting businesses that are open. Her hours haven’t changed much – she has lost only about 2 hours a week – and she’s grateful to be receiving an income in a time where many people aren’t getting income, or are having struggles with pay. When asked about how teenage essential workers are treated, she stated, “I’d say it’s pretty hypocritical. Fast-food employees are frequently belittled for the job they work, for whatever reason, and now they’re deemed as being essential. I can understand why fast food is viewed as being essential, but that doesn’t explain why people believe they can depend on us for meals while belittling us in the process. It’s frustrating. I thought this whole pandemic would make customers a bit nicer towards the people risking their health to serve them burgers, but I was pretty wrong about that one!”

During this time of uncertainty and fear, The Jefferson Street Journal would like to wish all of you to remain healthy, wash your hands, and to wish kindnesses on others. Please stay home if you can, and have a great corona-cation!