Q & A for Minimum Wage Work: understanding the employees that make the world go ‘round

by Drew Smith/Staff Writer

Photo Caption: Maddox Johnson and Mario Steverson talked with Drew Smith about their minimum wage part-time jobs.

Every town in America has them. Every major city, every small business, every major corporation, they all have them. They do the little things that make the world turn and yet they’re met with little recompense. Our society and economy cannot exist without them, as proven by this recent pandemic. I am, of course, talking about part-time, minimum wage, essential workers who undoubtedly are everywhere and who are undoubtedly needed. I have and always will have sympathy for the unrelentingly rough conditions that these people go through and have always sought to talk with them and have their voices heard. So, I sat down with three workers, Maddox Johnson, Mario Steverson, and Ethan Privett, all 11, who work at Greenfield’s local Taco Bell and Jimmy John’s. We had an honest conversation with them about their jobs. Here it is:

Q: As a part-time employee, what is the primary motivation to have a part-time job and to work your shifts atop of school, clubs, and even your free time?

A (Maddox): I like the social interaction. I’m friends with most of my coworkers. 

A (Mario): Money! No, I think it’s good to have cash in your pocket as a young person. So that way when you become an adult you have a sort of foundation for future endeavors. 

A (Ethan): The primary motivation to get a job for me was because I wanted to start making money. I had a lot of stuff I wanted to buy and couldn’t because I didn’t have a job at the time. My girlfriend, at the time, also gave me motivation to work. The main reason was because I wanted to make money so I could buy the things I wanted such as games and other collectible stuff.

Q: In comparison with other jobs, what about the job you have do you prefer over other part-time positions? 

A (Maddox): The managers do not care. They do not care. Like, yeah.

A (Mario): I would probably say the location. I’ve got a couple of coworkers that go here and we can hang out if we want. Not that I want to, but it’s an option given the location. 

A (Ethan): Jimmy Johns felt like a good starting point. I had applied to multiple places and it was the one that was accepted. They were pretty good with scheduling and everyone was really nice. I did work unofficially at a place with my dad, but it was 45 minutes away so location helped a lot, too. It was a really good starting point for a “first official” job that I found on my own.

Q: And, on the same note, what about your job do you find most frustrating, and what are things about other jobs that you maybe wish you had or that your workplace included?

A (Maddox): It’s the customers! It’s the people! People will get on you for anything. I had like five people come to our lobby at once and while they were waiting on their food, they were like, “I wish the cup lids had a sign that said what size they were,” like, just pick them up and look at them! You can see that they’re different sizes! 

A (Mario): I think the customers are a horrible part of working in any service because… I feel like Greenfield is such an old-person town. There’s nothing but old people.

A (Ethan): One thing that really frustrated me was communication. Sometimes the communication was not the best between managers to cooperate, and managers to employees. Most of the time it was really good, but there were a couple instances where it wasn’t the best. I haven’t really had another job like the part time position I had at Jimmy Johns. Like I said I did work at a place with my dad but it was only for a week and during spring break. Other than the couple of communication issues that occurred everything was pretty smooth and everyone looked out for each other.

Q: Speaking of your workplace, how are the conditions of your workplace? Are there aspects that concern you or is it perfectly fine?

A (Maddox): It’s not like my old job, it’s not like they’re washing the mop in the dish sink.

A (Mario): I think we, like, try our best to follow most of the rules. I’m not saying, like, we’re washing the mops in the sink-

A (Maddox): They would put the whole bucket and mop in the sink at my old job. Taco Bell is nothing like that. 

A (Ethan): The conditions of the workplace were really good. Everyone was super nice and helpful especially to the new people. The kitchen was clean and we did regular maintenance on everything so it was kept up to date.  The managers were really chill too and made it a fun work environment. The quality of communication between workers was really good. Like I said earlier, sometimes we cooperate with managers, and then that information being relayed to employees wasn’t the best. 90% of the time it was good. The only bad example was holidays and part of that was my fault, a “Hey, you guys don’t have work today” text would’ve been nice for the people that had never had a job, though.

Q: Co-workers play an important role in your quality of life at your workplace. How are your interactions with your coworkers? What is the quality of communication? 

A (Maddox): It can range from bad to decent. I don’t dislike any of them. 

A (Mario): I think the coworkers are cool especially given that none of the managers really appreciate the work the minors are doing. I feel like the managers hate all the minors. I thought at one point we were all getting fired. 

Q: On this note, management plays probably the largest role in how you interact with your job and generally your experience in the workplace. How is your relationship with management? Is it tense or are relations smooth? 

A (Maddox): It’s pretty smooth, they all like me.

A (Mario): They don’t like me. I mean, really though, with some of them (only a couple) there is constant tension, but for the most part everyone is cool there. 

A (Ethan): My relationship with the managers was good. They were all really cool and chill. The problems came from the higher-up ones. The ones that just managed and didn’t have a high up position were always really nice. The only issues I had with some of the higher up ones was communication. I had put on the sub sheet in the back that I needed 2 consecutive shifts off. I then worked with my managers to figure out how to go about getting a sub properly, what to do if I can’t find one, how to get ahold of other employees to take my shift, and everything else needed for those days to be taken off properly. I tried to cover all my bases. I worked with them for a month doing this. And they said that if I couldn’t find a sub it ultimately wouldn’t be a big deal. I then let them know a week before formally that I’m taking these two days off and I don’t have a sub and they said that’s fine. No sub took my shift. So I’m on my way back from being out of state on the second day I got off and I get a text from one of the managers that I worked with that it could be considered a no call no show if I didn’t let them know I wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t call in those days, but I was told everything was fine and I did everything I could do, so I didn’t need to worry about it. Obviously upset, I was like, I worked with you guys for a month before I took these days off, why am I getting reprimanded? The manager that texted me didn’t want that to happen because she knew all of the details, but the general manager said  if I “no called no showed” again to write me up. He didn’t know the details and the month long of working with the managers I did. He didn’t send me a text or tell me I did anything wrong though and then wrote me up for 2 counts of no call no show. He later canceled the write up, after I confronted him about it, but that showed me that communication between higher up managers and employees wasn’t a priority and it really made me upset because that was the first time I had taken time off in the 6 months I worked there.

Q: Part-time work often involves interacting with the general public, whether that be as a grocery clerk or as a fast-food employee, and oftentimes you can be dealing with frustrating individuals. How do you handle those who can be disrespectful or can be making your job harder?

A (Maddox): If they’re disrespectful, it takes everything in my power to not be disrespectful back. I’ve got to pass it off. 

A (Mario): I like to think that with customers I’m a pretty relaxed guy. But in the situation that someone’s, like, acting crazy, I’ll often do the same thing back. I won’t scream at them or cuss at them but I’ll give the same energy back to them. It’s just annoying. I don’t get paid enough to deal with you being mad because you got lettuce on something you didn’t want it on, like, grow up.

A (Ethan): If there was a rude customer, the managers were pretty quick to act on solving the problem because they all could hear the drive through or us taking their order because of where they were located or the headset being on their head. First I would try to be nice and calm and if the manager heard someone being mean they would take over and handle the situation accordingly. Thankfully I never really ran into mean customers which was a relief. A lot of the time the managers would take over which I love because the managers do care about their employees and I know other businesses may not be as gracious to take over and just make the employee deal with it.

Q: How has your experience as a part-time employee shifted how you see those who work part-time jobs and the industries surrounding them?

A (Maddox): I think anybody that goes to work for any of these places forty hours a week, or more, needs to get at least twenty dollars an hour, AT LEAST twenty. All these people want these places to be open twenty-four/seven, but they want high schoolers to work there for three cents an hour. That’s not possible. Somehow they don’t realize it. All these people want to go there for lunch and then are shocked that they’re adults there. Like, how am I supposed to work there? I go to school for 7-8 hours a day.

A (Mario): Honestly, I think it’s kind of like me and all these other kids with jobs, I guess. Like, we all have a bond, we all know that it sucks. But, we’re making money so I guess it’s ok. 

A (Ethan): My experience of being a part time job worker helped me because I have so much more sympathy for drive through workers especially. A lot of time they will take the blunt end of a rude customer and not even be the one making the food. It gives me a lot of sympathy because I know what it is like to be on the receiving end, and to be behind that counter, making, bagging, taking orders or whatever it may be. They have gained my respect.

Q: How do you feel part-time work has impacted your future? How do you feel your work has set you up for certain jobs or careers you might follow in your future and how do you feel it has helped you prepare for your life ahead of you?

A (Maddox): I’m definitely prepared to not be able to get another job. I’m prepared to be stuck here. 

A (Mario): I feel that I’ve gotten a lot more patient, at least a little bit. But, I think this has given me that early grind mindset going. You know, basically after college and after all of that, you’re basically working for the rest of your life, so I guess I’ve gotten a head start on it. 

A (Ethan): The time I worked for Jimmy John’s set me up and was a really good experience and a good learning opportunity for me. While I may not go into fast food when I’m older, it set me up to know how to do customer service, put quality into my work and give all the effort I can, no matter the job. It set me up with a lot of skills I can apply and use in the future even if it isn’t in the direct application I learned them in. Working also helped make me more responsible.

In all, it was a, frankly, very enjoyable conversation with these three. They’re insight was blunt but earnest. In a way, this may inform others and remind others of the experiences of these part-time workers. It’s easy to forget for those who used to be those same minimum-wage, part-time workers, just how difficult and frustrating these jobs were. So, when you’re going through the drive-thru, or you’re in line at the grocery store, remember: it may be taking longer than you want or your order may not be exact, but what those workers are experiencing is a whole lot more frustrating.