Monday, May 19, 2008

Workplace Discrimination Strikes Home

When I was 17, I got a job at McDonald’s. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t care for that kind of work, so after about two months I sought other opportunities.

A few months ago my oldest son got a job at McDonald’s. This weekend, he was canned. In his mind, he is certain that his firing comes down to three shortcomings: he is the wrong sex, his skin is too light, and he doesn’t speak the proper primary or secondary language. The same is apparently true of all others that have been canned at this restaurant over the past six months.

My wife, who has more knowledge of the inner functioning of the workplace at the restaurant where my son worked, claims that there is at least some validity to my son’s viewpoint. Other workers that are no more serviceable than my son are not fired and receive no disciplinary action. But they are female, Hispanic, or both.

My son has never been a rapid worker, which is a problem for a business that focuses on speed. One of my son’s former managers – the one that is Caucasian – confirmed that my son is not speedy, but said that he does good quality work. She did not support his firing, but was overruled by other managers with different cultural backgrounds.

It seems that my son has been the target of discrimination. He is angry about it. His anger stems from the perception that he was fired for factors that he is powerless to overcome — that he was illegally treated unequally.

This kind of thing provides fodder for those that oppose the immigration of people that are not like “us.” Every wave of immigration has produced its own anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s nothing new for descendants of former immigrants to openly worry that newer immigrants threaten American values.

I do not agree with workplace discrimination. But it’s very difficult to prove. And when the target is a white male, nobody wants to touch it. And anyway, how much do you really want to fight for a burger flipping job? Businesses that engage in discrimination actually end up hurting themselves and disadvantaging themselves against their competitors.

For that reason, I advise my son to forget it and move ahead. There are plenty of other entry-level jobs in the world. My son has complained that working at McDonald’s “sucks.” I have explained that pretty much all entry level jobs “suck.” This provides motivation to strive for something better. And for most of us, there’s no way to get to the higher rungs on the ladder without first traversing the lower rungs.

Right now my son is licking his wounds because his firing seems like a commentary on his personal worth. Fortunately, I am confident that someday he will be able to look back at this experience and laugh about it.


Cameron said...

I've been fired before and it was really hard, but it actually opened up new possibilities and I became better off for it. So there's that.

While I was still in school I worked in apartment maintenance. There were 5 of us on the crew in a large apartment complex; three latinos and two gringos. Only one of the latinos spoke English well, and was the crew manager. I spoke Spanish and became good friends with all of my co-workers, white and brown. However, my gringo co-worker abruptly quit one day, saying he felt discriminated against. In his view, I had been accepted whereas he had not.

There is so much power in language, in being able to communicate. I think much, if not most, of the immigration issues boil down to language.

y-intercept said...

People on the low end of the wage scale seem to get fired on a more regular basis than professionals, and for extremely petty reasons.

In many positions, a person will get fired for working hard as their coworkers think of the newcomer as competition for advancement.

BTW, your son probably would do better to get employment through a temp agency. I learned a lot more about companies working temp. Working temp also avoids a lot of the internal politicing that goes on with companies.