Wednesday, March 21, 2007


When I was in high school, I first came across the term "McJob" in Douglas Coupland's book Generation X.

McJob: (page 5)

A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.

And I think that last bit is the sinker.

Anyhow, it appears McDonald's is outraged that the job of burger flipper/ burger warmer is not held in the highest of esteem.

Read about it here.

Apparently unaware of how the English language works, McDonalds has started an effort to convince those they see as the "owners" of language that they've not given the term "McJob" a fair shake and seen the word the way their corporate decision makers would like the world to see the term "McJob". Oddly, these chroniclers of the language seem to go with how billions of English-speaking people use the term. What to do when you're an enormous corporation and you can't buy your way out of your sorry reputation as an employer.

From the article:

The Oxford English Dictionary, considered by many wordsmiths as the gold standard for the English language, is one of those that will be targeted. It defines the noun as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector."

I get freaked out by Newspeak at the best of times, but when you get the feeling a corporation is considering doing something pretty vile to try to demolish an image that's been somewhat fairly earned... I dunno. Kind of freaky. Rather than cowboy up and address the issue, is it really that much better to publicly take on the Dictionary?

Somehow, this generates images in my head of the burger wars from the mostly not-discussed Frank Miller comic "Give Me Liberty" in which the US goes to war to protect fast food cows in the Amazon.

I don't want for anyone to misconstrue this particular rant for some sort of disrespect for the hard working burgermeisters who prepare my fast food. The League has not worked fast food, but... We DID work at Chuck E. Cheese, which is mediocre, slowly produced food delivered in a temple in which all pizza eating worshippers must halt eating and conversation in reverence to a mechanical gigantic mouse in a hat. We swept up pizza crusts, handed out tokens to kids when the machine "ate" their token, oversaw the ball crawl*, and polished the vertical bars on the mini-carousel. I've slung records at the Camelot and pimped Tinkerbell shirts at the Disney Store. There is such a thing as a job where the downers (usually created by inept or negative management) greatly outweigh the $4.75 an hour. In two of these three jobs I was asked to wear an ill-fitting and humiliating uniform (we actually requested silver jumpsuits to wear when I worked at UT. Request denied). And had managers that, on a good day, were indifferent to me at best.

I had no skills, no experience, no future within the organization, and was constantly reminded of as much. If not for school and the promise of becoming a middle-class wage slave, I might have given in to the gripping despair that one can only find when told to keep glass doors clean in a restuarant full of children who've been handling pizza, tokens, tickets, and wiping snot on their own palms. For $4.25 or whatever minimum wage was in 1990.

But I also lived with my parents, and/or was earning supplemental money while in school which my folks generously assisted with. I am not an eighteen year old kid living in Goober Springs, Alabama where options are McDonalds or tending to my Uncle's Used Tire Emporium. So when that kid hears "McJob", I have no idea what he or she must think. But I hope to God that with the power of television and our educational system, Buddy McBarnes from Goober Springs at least knows that there may be more opportunity available than what ends when you pass the Exxon and it's all trees again along the freeway.

Thusly, mad respect for folks in the service industry, but I also know that the bright-eyed promising student is far and few between who says "I want to spend my life earning minimum wage and microwaving McMuffins."

Curiously, the CEO of McDonald's from a few years back was once a burger pimp, himself. Here's an article from when someone died and Bell took over.

Bell began his career with the fast-food chain at age 15 as a part-time crew member at a McDonald's restaurant in Sydney, Australia.

He became the company's youngest store manager in Australia at 19, a vice president at 27 and a member of the McDonald's Australia board of directors by the time was 29 years old.

"This is an absolutely right choice," said S&P's Milton. "Cantalupo relied on Bell a lot for crafting the turnaround. This is someone who has been with the company for a significant period of time."

That's awesome. I bet Bell's staff is made up entirely of the crew he started with at that Australian McDonald's**. What happened to you, Bell? You used to be from the street, dawg! You knew what it was to flip a burger and clean up some kids' barf from the McDonaldland Playscape!*** You sold out, Bell. You sold out.

Minimum wage isn't really the thrust of the phrase "McJob". A McJob is more about the drudgery of many jobs that's cropped up since the Industrial Revolution as people become cogs in an assembly line, whether that be McDonalds employees leaping into action when the frier makes that awful "WHEEEEEEEEEEET! WHEEEEEEEEEEEET!" noise. Or whether that person is wearing a tie, sitting in a cube where they can't be seen, anyway, and calling people to donate to the Austin Policemen's Charity (the tie makes you all professional-like).

There's something far more frightening about the white-collar McJob. It's a job intended to mark time, is mostly insulting to the intelligence, and can usually be identified by how often the manager insists that they are a professional of some sort and how unnecessarily cumbersome the tasks assigned to wage slave actually are. Usually because nobody ever bothered to ask the employees how to improve the processes they do all day, which the executives have never actually performed. But they DO pay well enough, these jobs... and there's not necessarily the same sense of temporary employment that pervades when one is loaned their pants and told they must return them when they quit. And, of course, in the white-collr McJob, you are surrounded by lots of other people all doing the same job, many of whom have been their for years and never once considered a promotion.

What's curious is that McDonalds is going after the dictionary in the same manner they go after our elected officials whenever it's suggested the minimum wage see an increase. As I recall, in order to try to dodge out of some legislation or other that might effect the bottomline, McDonald's attempted to reassign their employees from the food-prep category to some sort of assembly line technician. I can't find it now, but in my commute in PHX, I recall hearing the story on NPR.

Perhaps if McDonalds paid a bit better, perhaps if the drudgery of the position wasn't punctuted only with being shouted at by furious managers and customers... McDonalds might be able to actually convince those of us who've used the term "McJob" without blinking for fifteen years to drop the term if their employees did not always look miserable and their turnover wasn't well known as one of the highest turnover positions in any industry. (As someone who has managed part time employees, turn over is a huge time killer and makes managers grumpy.)

*some new parents read this blog. I beseech of thee, if you care at all for your health or the health and safety of your children... do not let your child enter a public ball crawl. New parents don't want to think about this, but little kids are germ factories. Not only are they perpetually ill, they also have no concept of hygiene, and will wipe their nose with their hands and then leap into the ball crawl. It is IMPOSSIBLE to clean the balls in the ball crawl. And dozens and dozens of kids pass through a ball crawl each day, leaving their trail of germs on everything.

Also, while your child may be an angel, other kids are irresponsible horrors with no respect for their safety or that of anyone else. So expect for your kid to get a shin to the back of the head.

And last, but not least... and i can't believe I have to share this, but I speak from experience... Ball crawls are not a good place for infants. Do not toss your infant into the ball crawl in the high hopes that the disgruntled 16 year old watching the crawl will watch your kid while you pound back a cool Coors 16 oz'er. The ball crawl is about 3 feet deep. Your infant could easily disappear and not be found again until the semi-annual ball-crawl vaccuuming. Also, the note about the shin to the back of the head? Kids like to jump off the walls, pretending to be their favorite luchador, often in the direction of your infant's still unfused skull.

When considering the ball crawl, just.... don't.

**I know they eat beef in Australia, but what else is on the menu? Filet 'o Platypus? Koala Nuggets? Ah, it's funny to make fun of Australians. FACT: They're all reprehensible savages****.

***Why is it that really low-paying jobs often require the removal of vomit? I do recall that one of the reasons I was not liked (and I hadn't thought about this in a while) at the Disney Store was that when I was informed that some kid had tossed her cookies in the store, on carpet, I declared "I am not paid enough to clean up barf. At least not without that pink, granular stuff." Apparently not wanting to clean up barf makes you "not a team player". But, you know what... they weren't paying for benefits or nuthin'. I was supposed to shift from fixing the stuffed anaimal arrangements to scooping up vomit.
Other people's barf is super gross, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some sort of special compensation for cleaning it up. If we all worked together and refused to clean up barf for minimum wage, just imagine the utopia we'd all be living in.

****This is not an actual fact. I've met a few Australians, and while I get tired of hearing about how they find my slection of knife completely substandard, our friends from down under couldn't be a more decent people. In fact, if you'd like to point to anyone as an utter savage, it's Canadians, who, FACT: eat babies*****.

*****It is mostly not-true that Candians eat babies. At least not Canadian babies, or there would be no actual Canadians. I suspect some Canadians of cannibalism, but can prove nothing. They probably clean up barf for a shiny dime, too.******

******I feel sort of bad about that. That may have gone too far.


Anonymous said...

you are a master blogger. this post is a masterpiece. i am awestruck by your prolixity, wide-audience relevance, and broad-range appeal. when i can find nothing more meaningful to blog about this week than tequila, snot, and my new crush, you swoop onto the scene with social awareness-raising issues and safe warnings against ball crawls. you are my blogging hero!

Laura said...

One summer I worked at Blockbuster and was, for several reasons, the only employee with plans in life bigger than working at Blockbuster (and why would one have bigger plans? you get to watch 5 free videos a week!). It was pretty depressing. I remember when they wanted to make me a manager and I explained that I'd rather go to college in the fall, thanks. (Although now it occurs to me that Viacom still sometimes pays my bills, so maybe I was a company woman to the end.)

Also, this has nothing to do with anything but I just watched this video and thought it was interesting.

Laura said...

I don't think that link worked, so you may want to follow the link from here:

Anonymous said...

Really low paying jobs require the removal of vomit because removing vomit requires little, or not, skill. Thus, the pay for same is low.

The League said...

Spoken like someone whose never been asked to clean up vomit at the going rate of $5.25 per hour. Given the time it takes to clean up vomit, that's about $2.00 per vomit clean.

My dignity, personally, whether I was skilled or not, came at a higher premium than $2.00. And I think it should for other people, too.

Anonymous said...

It's not personal. No matter how long it takes, no matter how awful or smelly the task may be, ANYONE can clean up vomit. It's not pleasant. But anyone can do it. It requires no education, training, professional license, permit, et cetera. This is why the income gap is so critical in today's political landscape. It is the people with no skills who are at the bottom of the income ladder, and one of the reasons they are there is because they did not complete high school or college or what have you. To an employer, at first glance, that means they do not have any marketable skills. The solution to this is not to shout proletarian solidarity from the blogtops but to ensure that these individuals seek out educational opportunities so they can market themselves to high paying and less bile-filled jobs.

The League said...

Again, spoken like someone who has never been asked to clean up vomit. I am curious, Anonymous, if you have ever worked in any service industry. I'm kind of doubting it.

I offer you this: If you were stopped on the street by a person with crisp dollar bills in their hand and they said, "the Disney Corp. will pay you $2.00 to clean up a pile of barf, right here, right now," would you take the $2.00 and get to scrubbing?

If you refused: Would it be your would your superior professional skills or your belief that you don't need the $2.00 badly enough to get to scrubbing kiddie vomit that would keep you from taking on the task?

The moment you reach for the mop without negotiating, you've just decided your price. My price was higher than $2.00 in early 90's dollars, and I think that barf should bring a higher value. Quid pro quo.

I think you've mistaken my desire for a higher premium placed on barf detail for some sort of mini-communist manifesto. Not so. Everyone needs a job or two that can motivate them to move up and out. A little crummy work is good for the soul. I say that anyone who thinks that cleaning up barf for minimum wage is reasonable has never been tasked to do so. Or chase off hobos stealing pizza crusts. Or clean toilets at Chuck E. Cheese. Or any of the other things are usually associated with minimum wage and the service industry.

America is, indeed, the land of opportunity. And education plays a central role in all that, there can be no doubt. But it's also elitist thinking to believe that those who are cleaning up some kid's barf chose to pursue a lifepath in which they and the barf would intersect. It's a slippery slope between suggesting that the barf-cleaning is little more than just desserts for an educational path not fully pursued, and that it was, in fact, the duty of the undereducated to clean up the barf of mall patrons for around $2.00 a pop.

Anonymous said...

1) I assume you are not attempting to seriously compare a part-time or full-time job in the service industry with the example you provide, i.e. a corporation offering a prospective employee a job solely cleaning vomit spills or a one time independent contractor style assignment to clean up a single vomit spill. Based on that assumption, I need not respond to that example.

2) People are free to reach for the mop without negotiating. There are certain positions, usually those that carry an hourly wage, where there is not much negotiation on salary. This is because an applicant for such a position usually has few, if any, skills, and the employer can find someone else to clean the vomit or push the button on the console with the picture of the french fries on it. Now, this is not to say that these are not valuable positions that need to be filled by competent people. However, it is saying that one does not need to complete high school or college to apply for or hold such a position. Thus, the skills and education that you would acquire in pursuing education are not implicated. That's why the wage is low.

3) You hit the nail on the head when you talk about needing a crummy job. You apparently did this. You held such a job, realized it wasn't for you, and decided you wanted more. That's called ambition, and it's why some people finish high school and go to college. It's why lots of people obtain certifications and other kinds of experience. But simply because vomit is gross and it is unpleasant to remove, that does not mean that skills are required for its removal. It's not like its biowaste. It's vomit.

4) This exchange naturally leads to the income gap. Studies show that the income gap exists because the people at the low end do not have the same amount of education as those in the middle or the high end. We need to figure out how to make certain these people are afforded access and opportunity to higher education.

5) Some people are content with such jobs or do not have the ambition to escape them. I am not sure that is a reason to pay them more.

6) You seem to believe you are more qualified to speak on this subject because you once held a mop. That is ridiculous.

7) My past work experience is not relevant, but yes, I held such a job and cleaned spills of many varities. As a college student, I cleaned up vomit without compensation.

The League said...

1) I am comparing the two. I think you're dodging the question.

2) I have never said that cleaning vomit is a skilled position. I am saying that I place a premium on such a task, and I believe that others should, too. There are many positions which require no degree but for which there is significant compensation (see: Elected Official). Obviously cleaning barf is needed in our society. I am simply shocked that, as a needed position, there's no blackmail involved by more people.

3) Agreed. Within limits. The folks who actually remove real biowaste from hospitals, etc... are usually of the unskilled janitorial variety. Nuclear waste, I do not know.

4) You will hear no argument from me.

5) Agreed. That's a whole career, not vomit maintenance. Stay focused.

6 and 7) That, sir, is horsehockey. I was speaking of my own personal, relevant experience and a decision I made and why. I can't imagine anyone MORE qualified to speak on the topic.

As much as you value the experience, certifications and degrees of others in the workplace, I, too, value experience. Thusly, if a job did not include barf detail, I do not see how anyone without barf detail can speak with authority or relevancy other than through mostly uninformed positions.

Cleaning up post-party spew of you and your college-pals' making isn't quite the same. I've been there, too. That's required to keep your home from stinking. Believe me, on a regular basis I pick up plenty of animal mess of all sorts with no complaint.

And if you cleaned up barf in a non-party related venue for zero compensation, I call thee suckah.

Anonymous said...

I think your dignity was sacrificed the day you took a job at the "Disney Store". For a guy who loathes children as much as you do, it was an odd career choice. Anyway, we all had to crap jobs our teenage days. I view in 2 ways: (1) It's kind of like hazing. Your dad did it, your friends did it, now you have to. and (2) It helps you realize the value and importance of education, and thus motivates you to work hard enough, study hard enough, to never, ever, be in the position again where you have to clean up vomit at $2.00 for 20 minutes of work.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I am not the anonymous who wnet unsigned above.

Anonymous said...

Is cleaning up vomit something that someone has to actually be qualified to speak about? Come on. This boils down to one simple fact: If you don't want to clean up vomit, educate yourself. If you are stuck cleaning vomit, got to night school. Do something.

The problem is that many people are locked into their lives based on poor decisions they made while young. They dropped out of high school. They graduated from high school but didn't go to college. They dropped out of college. Some of these people are content with that. Some of these people aren't content with that but don't want to help themselves. But there are others who want to help themselves but cannot, either due to family obligations such as children or debt which prevents them from seeking higher education or additional training. I'm not sure what the government can or should do to help any of those people. But there are resources. I don't know if they are sufficient, but they exist, and maybe we should be talking about that, rather than trying to win the "I had the worst job growing up" contest?

The League said...

I am still stunned that you guys are stuck on this as a labor issue.

It's about cleaning up vomit. Which I believe is worth more than $2.00/ hr.

Apparently we part ways on the barf issue.

You are silly, silly people.

Anonymous said...

Your valuation of a task for pay to be performed by an individual is not about labor?

The League said...

I think I was tired of this debate before I left town.

Look, "anonymous"... You've dodged direct questions when inconvenient, for some reason refuted my ability to have an opinion on my own desire to not mop vomit, you continue to insist that you are right on what those in the service sector deserve as their fate.

I've not disagreed that minimum wage jobs suck and that people should have them for a while and move on. I've not argued that people can move out of those positions if they try.

I think what's bothering you is that I suggested that workers should refuse some element of work detail for $2.00.

I guess I don't care that much that some people haven't had my same opportunity or may have made bad choices at some critical juncture. I think everyone deserves more than $2.00 for performing tasks I find distasteful.

On this we apprently differ.

I don't know how to construe your insistence in circling back to the fact that you think barf cleaning at $2.00 a pop (or less) is a reasonable price other than that you fundamentally do not regard people in the service sector as your equal.