Aristides Burgos works at a McDonald's restaurant in Manhattan making $7.50 an hour, a quarter above minimum wage. The part-timer gets 20 hours on the schedule each week and has a hard time making ends meet, but he said he doesn't relish the idea of working on Christmas Day, even if he needs the money.
"Everyone should be with their loved ones that one day of the year," Burgos, 38, said. "But I guess it is what it is."
Although he hasn't been asked yet, Burgos shouldn't be surprised if a manager suggests he volunteer for a holiday shift. According to a report this week in Advertising Age, McDonald's issued a memo to its franchisees in November urging them to open their doors for Thanksgiving as well as Christmas this year, noting the potential for added sales on what are traditionally days off for American workers.
"Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day," said a memo from Chief Operating Officer Jim Johannesen, AdAge reported. "Last year, [company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales."
McDonald's would not confirm or deny the existence of the memo. In an email, a company spokeswoman told The Huffington Post that the majority of McDonald's restaurants are owned by franchisees, and it's ultimately up to those business owners whether or not to stay open for Christmas -- and whether to ask employees to volunteer for shifts.
"Like other retailers and restaurants, we respond to our customers’ needs for convenience by being open when they need and want us, including the holidays," McDonald's spokeswoman Ofelia Casillas said. "For McDonald’s restaurants, our employees are given the opportunity to voluntarily work these holiday hours, are compensated for working these hours and rewarded for their service."
The company's suggestion that franchisees remain open on Christmas is another reminder that service-sector workers are losing their holidays as employers seek to maximize sales on every possible calendar day. Retail workers, who operate in a low-paying, low-benefit industry similar to fast food, have seen earlier opening hours gradually chip away at their Thanksgiving celebrations, with a number of major big-box stores opening well ahead of midnight on Black Friday this year. Like McDonald's, most retail chains say they are merely responding to consumer demand.
A number of retail workers told HuffPost that they at least received holiday differential pay for working Thanksgiving or Black Friday. In the case of a McDonald's Christmas, that decision would presumably be left to individual franchisees rather than a broader corporate policy.
Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said restaurant workers have long clocked in on the holidays with no type of bonus -- a fact that she said often goes unnoticed by many of the diners who choose to eat out on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
"It's been an invisible thing for so long," Jayaraman said. "I do see a growing awareness, though -- an interest that these large and low-wage industries are increasingly making workers do this. It's depressing, but it's encouraging that there's tremendous consumer power in these industries."
"There's a potential for consumers lashing back," Jayaraman added, noting that the profit forecast for Darden Restaurants, owner of the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains, took a tumble not long after it announced it would experiment with more part-time workers to possibly avoid the obligations of the Obamacare.
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Many McDonald's workers will likely choose to clock in on Christmas because they need the extra hours and pay, Jayaraman said. The fast food industry, like retail, relies heavily on part-time workers, many of whom aren't high schoolers, but parents trying to support families. Benefits like health insurance and paid sick time are rarities for those who aren't full-time salaried employees.
The average pay for cashiers and crew members at McDonald's hovers not far above the federal minimum wage, according to Glassdoor.com, an employment website that tracks company salaries by user surveys. Restaurant jobs have been some of the fastest-growing jobs in the economy, but also some of the lowest-paying. The National Restaurant Association, a trade group for the industry, projected record sales this year, with a job growth outpacing other sectors.
Gerald, a McDonald's crew member in New York City who asked that his last name not be used, told HuffPost that he plans on working Christmas because he normally works every Tuesday and needs the cash.
"I have to make the money," said Gerald, a six-year veteran of McDonald's. "I've worked Christmas before. The money that I make is not enough."
Gerald currently earns $7.35 an hour, a dime above minimum wage, in one of the most expensive areas of the country. (One of his two raises since 2006 came courtesy of Congress hiking the wage floor, he said.) He typically gets between 20 and 29 hours a week on the schedule.
Bloomberg recently profiled Tyree Johnson, a 20-year employee of McDonald's who still earns $8.25 an hour, juxtaposing his meager earnings with the $8.75 million the company paid to its chief executive officer last year.
The low pay and scant benefits in the industry have helped spur a union-backed campaign, Fast Food Forward, which kicked off with a one-day strike by some workers at McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King restaurants in New York last month. The group has launched a petition, "Can't Survive On $7.25," aimed at pressuring companies to raise their wages above the minimum-wage range.
Jonathan Westin, head of the campaign, criticized McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants that are opening on Christmas, saying it was one more difficult decision for low-wage workers to make.
"Many workers choose every day whether they'll [buy] lunch or take the subway," Westin said. "They're now having to choose between whatever meager earnings they make at McDonald's and spending time with their family."