Just about everything in life has taught us that working at McDonald’s is at the rock bottom of the employment food chain. When you add in Morgan Spurlock’s lone assassin hit job on the fast food giant that named it solely responsible for everything obese about America, it’s even become politically cool to dis McDonalds. So, what does the global food chain do? Go out and HIRE somebody.
But, wait a second, remember what your parents would tell you? If you didn’t study in school, you’d be flipping burgers for a living. Nobody wants to go to work in a paper hat. And, the classic, “You Want Fries?” is so linked to a life of degrading work that Tim McGraw actually made a pretty good song about it (waiting for the hip-hop version).
It’s different now. In the midst of a recession, Micky D’s is compelled to lift its own overweight butt off the economic couch and put thousands of people to work.
Fortunately for theLoop21, I had enough time, ability and morbid curiosity to find out if they really did.
It just so happens that on National Hiring Day I had to take a cross country drive from Atlanta, GA to Cleveland, OH. What better chance to see the hiring adventures up front as the Big Mac empire was drawing in the unemployed across four states: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. I kept a running blog the whole time and managed to avoid eating in each restaurant I visited.
Smyrna, Georgia 10:23 a.m.
Hopping onto Route 75 headed for Atlanta, I dropped by the McDonald’s in Smyrna. A friend texted me about a packed McDonald’s in Alpharetta, so I expected to see tons of people desperately clinging to portfolios and resumes waiting for blessings by St. Ronald.
No such luck.
It was mostly a bunch of high school kids looking for summer jobs. You get the sense that someone’s Mom woke them up out of bed that morning and said “get your ass to McDonald’s I’m not watching you lay around all summer.” Maybe I’m just having flashbacks. Either way, no magic here, a few students, no heavy business, the McDonald’s magic is pretty weak.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, Gunbarrell Station 1:00 p.m.
I hadn’t realized that getting a job at McDonald’s was such a super secret operation. So secret that hardly anyone seemed to know about it. I stopped off to get an oil change at a local mall and walked across to a McDonalds where there were so many balloons and flyers I was sure I was the billionth customer of the billions they serve every day.
You name it, they had it. Everyone on staff wore a crisp pair of McDonald’s Tie-scots (I made that word up. They wear weird neck gear sometimes that looks like a mixture between an ascot and a tie. Usually in red. And usually covered in grease stains).
It was here I met a 50-something year old sister and door-greeter named Ruthie. A believer, Ruthie told me business was booming, the store was always busy and that everyone was excited about hiring day.
And then it hit me.
Me: So Ruthie, how many people are actually getting hired at this location today?
Ruthie: Oh no one really, I mean, we have one shift that needs more people but we’re mostly just collecting applications.
Me: Wait, so if I apply I can’t get a job today?
Ruthie began to regard me with the same suspicious glare usually reserved for people who try to redeem coupons that are clearly expired. She refused to let me take a picture of her nice display table. Not wanting to anger the McGods on hiring day, I left. But, it did make me wonder: if they aren’t hiring everywhere, what’s the point of the promotion?
Clinton, Tennessee: 2:45 p.m.
Move along nothing to see here. Just past Knoxville I ran into a side road McDonald’s that looked promising. The recession isn’t just about big cities; it’s about the regular folks who are struggling in small towns.
One of the underlying stories of this long term economic downturn is the inability of people to find secondary jobs. With Borders books, Blockbuster video and general stores closing, the secondary incomes that many families need to keep afloat are disappearing. It’s one thing to move to another city for another $25k a year job, but when you’re only $300.00 short a month, fast food jobs hit the spot. Of course that didn’t seem to matter in Clinton.
“Blake,” a skinny blond kid, dead ringer for The Simpson’s ‘pimply faced teen’ at Krusty Burger informed me that they weren’t really doing the promotion at this McDonald’s. He pointed to a lonely pile of applications sitting on a table with a McDonald’s table cloth. Now compared to the dog and pony show that was at the last McDonalds, this was disappointing. “Blake” informs me that only four people had applied that day, which is amazing since unemployment in the Knoxville metro area is about 8.2 percent.
(9 exits North of Clinton) 3:00 p.m.
I wasn’t going to let a squeaky voiced teen dissuade me from believing that Ronald really did want to see this country turnaround. So I drove nine exits north on I-75 to find another McDonalds that was hiring. This off road McDonalds was nestled in the side of a mountain and full of truckers and other folks who spend more time everyday in their seats than on their feet. Here I was introduced to a middle aged white woman who was named Susan – the hiring manager.
Susan explains right away that they weren’t really hiring.
The second time I’ve heard this message today. However I was invited to do an interview, drop off an application full of personal information and then drop by in a couple of weeks. The first interview question, I kid you not:
“If you sell a customer a hamburger and they give you a $50.00 bill but don’t have any change what do you do?”
- A. Tell them to go across the street and get some change
- B. See if you can make change from your own wallet
- C. Ask them to purchase $50.00 worth of McDonald’s products including a gift certificate that can be used at any time
- D. Tell them to leave
Guess which one was the right answer?
Lexington, Kentucky 5:15 p.m.
At this point I’ve been driving so long and I’m so tired that I actually give in and WANT to eat at McDonalds. I pull over and see a Mini-Tea Party Rally going on for Phil Moffett, candidate for Kentucky Governor. There’s no better place for a bunch of Tea Partiers than a McDonald’s parking lot.
Putting on my best twang and intimate knowledge of right wing politics I walked right up to the head man of the rally and started talking Kentucky Politics. After some initial hesitation he opened up, we talked about America’s debt problem, how terrible Obama is, whether Trump would run, and how “the blacks” and Jews were destroying America. Okay okay I’m kidding. We didn’t really talk about Trump running.
Satisfied that I’d spread the gospel of Allen West for a day, I went inside McDonald’s and finally found an example of what should going on during national “hiring day”. Greeted firmly by a 30-something year old white woman named Anne and a 20-something coca skinned college senior and management trainee named Tiffany, I was invited to have a free cookie and sit down for an interview.
Tiffany quickly explained that over 155 people had applied already that day, that they were hiring over 20 people on the spot and that unlike other McDonald’s they really saw today as a great opportunity to get new staff.
In fact when I told them both that I was applying to McDonalds all over route 75 they were totally interested in finding out how their hiring plans were squaring up with everyone else’s. This was like hanging out with the opposing high school during homecoming and all the cheerleaders wanting to find out if the other team’s float is better than theirs. I was actually pretty inspired by their speech about how McDonalds was a family, how Anne had worked there for 13 years and how Tiffany was graduating from University of Kentucky this spring and already had a full time livable wage job as a manager.
Know what made this McDonalds different? It was a franchise.
Apparently this store and 3 others in the Lexington area were all owned by a family that had deep roots in Kentucky and felt pride in hiring and retaining local employees, supporting little league teams and being good corporate citizens.
By the time I left I had almost forgiven them for letting Tea Partiers hang out in the parking lot.
Cleveland, Ohio 2:00 a.m.
There were surprisingly few McDonalds on Highway 71 heading up into Cleveland, but when I finally arrived home, I watched the television set to see how the coverage of hiring day had gone.
Unemployment, especially in the Cleveland metro area for black people is terrible, and more often than not these kinds of gimmicks directly affect the lives and opportunities of the poor – in a very real way. Around 2pm that afternoon a woman became so angry about her application process at a local Cleveland McDonalds that she got into her car and ran over 3 people, including the store manager. Not a good way to get hired. Even if they do need 50,000 people.
So what did I learn from my McDonald’s magical hiring day recession journey? First, that while President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) argue about cutting government spending and jobs, most Americans are still struggling to make ends meet. The men and women I saw in Smyrna, Clinton and Cleveland could care less about the debt ceiling. They just want to know how they’ll keep a roof over their heads. The President and Congress seem to have dropped the ball on the oh-so-important issue of job creation in favor of philosophical arguments about spending which really don’t matter to anyone. Next: shamelessly taking advantage of recessionary misery, McDonalds was more interested in PR than in hiring. It always struck me as suspect that some McDonald’s corporate exec woke up one morning in March and decided that the company was 50,000 people short for lunch rush.
The company created a great opportunity to look like good corporate citizens – even if it only amounted to a huge data collection scam. In some cases, McDonald’s franchises may have taken the opportunity to truly hire new employees. But, for the most part it was for show.
Even the second largest commercial employer in America can’t solve our recessionary woes, but it’s nice to know that at least somewhere along the line they made an attempt. Can leaders in Washington take the same hint?
This article originally appeared at TheLoop21.com under the headline “Supersize That Economy: theLoop21 Takes A Four-State Road Trip on McDonald’s National Hiring Day.”