Back to Black Joanne Black
Front-line staff in fast-food chains can have as much effect on the bottom line as a CEO.
Chipotle, the Mexican-food chain that has more than 2300 restaurants, is the latest company to demonstrate why the huge gap between chief-executive salaries and those of front-line staff is not only unconscionable, but also bad for business.
Nominally, the furore about Chipotle is about racism. Really, it is not. The story began when a young black man, Masud Ali, posted on social media a video of himself being denied service at a Chipotle restaurant until he had paid – contrary to the store’s normal practice of customers paying after they have received their meals. When he demands to know why the change of policy, Ali is told by the store manager – in a friendly but firm tone – “You’ve got to pay because you never have money when you come in here.” Plainly, Ali is known to the staff for “doing a runner”. Theft is another name for it. But Ali called Chipotle out for racism and the store manager was promptly fired. Posts on social media – since deleted – revealed that Ali has boasted of eating without paying.
Not long ago there was a to-do at Starbucks when a store manager declined to give a black man the code to unlock a toilet door, having just given the code to a white man. Neither man had bought anything. In many US cities and suburbs there are no public toilets, so people, homeless or not, will use the restrooms in stores and restaurants. This is a service for customers, but for others, access might be denied. That does not excuse or explain racism, but it does mean that low-paid front-line staff are constantly dealing with society’s problems.
In all the recent cases that have made headlines, a big company (Chipotle has more than 60,000 staff and mentions in last year’s annual report that none are unionised) has suffered damaging publicity.
Chief-executive salaries are justified in part because the decisions they make affect the profitability of the companies they run. However, a kitchen hand who accidentally contaminates food, or a server who is racist, has at least as much potential to sink the company’s share price as the CEO. The biggest difference between them is in the pay and benefits (health insurance in particular) that each of them receives. And a CEO would not be sacked for daring to suggest that a customer pays for his meal.
This month, US President Donald Trump awarded seven Medals of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US. By a ratio of 4:3, the living recipients outnumbered the dead.
I understand the posthumous awarding of medals to civilians and people in the armed services who died committing an act of bravery. No one would quibble with that. I even understand posthumous awards for people who died while still undertaking the job or voluntary service that earned them the medal. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was still serving on the US Supreme Court when he died in 2016, was one of the three posthumous recipients honoured by Trump.
But the other two were entertainer Elvis Presley, who, unless you believe reports that he has been seen waiting on tables in Tennessee, died in 1977, and baseball great Babe Ruth, who died 70 years ago. I struggle to find meaning in handing gongs to Presley’s and Ruth’s descendants decades after the men’s deaths. Both were idolised in their lifetimes so it is not as though their greatness has only just been discovered.
It feels to me as though the awards are mostly about the desire of a politician to be associated with popular heroes, even if he has to dig them up to do it.
I struggle to find meaning in handing gongs to Elvis Presley’s descendants decades after his death.
“Sorry, I can’t even stand talking to the people I know.”