While driving down the street a month ago, I experienced a Big Mac Attack.

This really blew my mind, since I hadn’t thought of a Big Mac in several years—and hadn’t had one in probably 20. My truck turned, seemingly of its own volition, into the McDonald’s parking lot on Roxboro Street. I went into the restaurant and—mouth and heart filled with anticipation—ordered one.

Big mistake, folks. The two all-beef patties were cold, the lettuce wilted, and the special sauce was anything but. Don’t even ask about the pickles.

Under normal circumstances, I’d have tossed that culinary disaster into the trash after one bite and kept on truckin’. But I was hungry, so I ate the whole thing.

Even so, after 20 years, I refused to let the bad burger slide. The restaurant’s telephone number was on the receipt, so I called and, in my best “Let me speak to the manager” voice, said, “Let me speak to the manager.”

I explained what had happened—that after 20 years, I decided to buy a Big Mac, and the one I got was stone cold, and it would probably be another 20 years before I bought another one. Was the manager understanding? Did he offer my money back? Did he tell me to come down so he could prepare one just for me with some “extra-special” special sauce?

Negative. Dude merely explained that “a lot has changed in 20 years,” and they no longer make the burgers to-order when you come in.

The patties, he explained, might have been sitting under a heat lamp for a considerable length of time when I ordered them. Sensing that I, like Mick Jagger, was about to get no satisfaction, I then went online and filled out what seemed like a 200-question customer service questionnaire, at the end of which I reported the manager’s candid but insufficient response. That was weeks ago, and I’ve yet to hear a word from Ronald, the Hamburglar, or anyone else associated with the corporation. 

That unsavory McDonald’s experience came to mind recently when I saw some McDonald’s employees and their supporters outside the downtown Durham location banging the drums—actually, red plastic buckets and anything else they could get their hands on—in support of workers’ demand for a $15 hourly wage.

The protest, wrote the INDY’s Thomasi McDonald—my cousin, but no relation to Ronald—was part of Raise Up NC/Fight for 15’s ongoing campaign calling on McDonald’s to “protect its employees’ safety, address what they say is rampant sexual harassment, pay its workers $15 per hour, and recognize workers’ right to organize a union.”

A 2015 study by Purdue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management contends that if workers were paid $15 an hour, the cost of that Big Mac that now costs $3.99 would soar to—wait for it—$4.16.

I don’t know about you, but I’d gladly pay—wait a minute, let me do some cipherin’ here—an extra 17 cents for a burger if I knew that the person who prepared it could afford to feed her or his own children or had health insurance or benefits that allowed them to stay home when sick.

The study also found that raising the minimum wage would save the restaurant industry billions of dollars because employee turnover—and the cost of training new employees—would be lower: People tend to stay longer in jobs where they feel appreciated.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? If so, some people are walking around with no brains.

The number of people who were unsympathetic to the workers’ cause surprised me. Of the 10 people to whom I spoke—some as they exited a McDonald’s with a bag of vittles—four of them said either that the workers didn’t deserve $15 an hour or, if they did, they wouldn’t be willing to pay more to ensure they got it.

“If they don’t like it, they can always get another job that pays more,” said one minivan-driving mom.

“Fifteen dollars an hour is a lot of money just for flipping burgers,” a black-leather-clad man in a red bandana said as he crossed the parking lot to his Harley.

Yikes. My soul rests a little easier, though, because the majority of people were willing—nay, eager—to pay more. They felt as I do: Seventeen cents is a small price to pay to ensure that the person handling your food is happy, has health care, and doesn’t have to come to work sick.

As a certified Jeopardy! addict, I recall a Final Jeopardy question decades ago—possibly further back than when I had my last Big Mac—that went something like, “This is the national minimum wage.”

One contestant—who probably could tell you the name of Louis XIV’s wigmaker’s second cousin—hadn’t a clue. Her response: $15.

Knowing that the minimum wage at the time was under $4 an hour, I thought, man, I’d love to live in her world.

I still would. 

BARRY SAUNDERS is a former columnist for The News & Observer. He now publishes thesaundersreport.com. Comment on this column at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

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One reply on “For an Extra 17 Cents, the People Who Make Your Big Mac Deserve a Break”

  1. I have no credentials to argue with Purdue, but I’d bet a $15 minimum wage–for everybody, not just at McDonald’s–would result in enough increased purchasing power (and increased demand) amongst current minimum-wage earners that very few things (nothing as plentiful as Big Macs, or their ingredients, at least) would actually go up in price.

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