Fired while black: What working at McDonald’s is really like

OPINION - “You don’t fit the profile of the organization I’m trying to build.” That’s what a McDonald’s store owner told me last year when he called me into his office and told me I was fired...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

“You don’t fit the profile of the organization I’m trying to build.”

That’s what a McDonald’s store owner told me last year when he called me into his office and told me I was fired.

Now, keep in mind that I been working there almost two years. I was on time, opening the store almost every morning before four. I worked hard and never had a disciplinary write-up or a customer complaint.

I walked out of there absolutely shocked. Fired? What would I do? Even though I was getting paid just $9.00 an hour, this job was the only income I had to support my family, and I have four children.

The phrase kept rolling around in my head – “you don’t fit the profile” at McDonald’s. What could that possibly mean?

Then I found out. Over a dozen other workers had also been fired. All of the ones fired from my store, the Riverdale Store in South Boston, VA were black like me. We had been fired not for anything we did wrong but because of our race.

For months, my McDonald’s supervisor had made remarks that she wanted to get rid of nonwhite workers at the store. When the store was staffed with nearly all black workers, she would say things like “it’s too dark in here” and “we need to get the ghetto and the ratchetness out of the store.”

I heard other coworkers of mine called the McDonald’s corporate hotline right after I was fired. They told them we had been fired, and that the store owner was doing it because of our race.

How did corporate headquarters respond? Were they outraged? Did they say they would send someone right over to get to the bottom of this? No, not at all. They said that we should take our concerns to the store owner – the same person who had just fired us!

Just about everything about working at McDonald’s is controlled by the corporate office. They would send a representative to our store regularly to make sure that all of the rules the company makes were being followed.

The company dictates everything down to the smallest detail like how we fold our customers’ bags or how we smile while we’re at work. But when a whole group of us were fired because we didn’t “fit the profile” by being black, McDonald’s said it had nothing to do with that. They didn’t lift a finger. They care about profits.

They want black dollars. But they turn a deaf ear to the workers that make the company profitable in the first place.

After getting fired, I fell behind on my bills. My family’s health was devastated from the stress; my blood pressure soared and my daughter suffered a nervous breakdown from seeing me suffer and had to be admitted to a hospital. I struggled to support my four children. I started to be afraid that I was even going to lose my house. No mother should ever go through what I went through because of McDonald’s.

Those of us who got fired have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. If you have ever thought about suing somebody, you know that a lawsuit is not something most people want to get into. But at a company like McDonald’s, there is no other way, at least right now.

Across the country, thousands of fast food workers have been joining together, calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. They want a living wage, fair treatment at work, and the right to form a union so they don’t have to face the kind of racism and humiliation that we have faced in Virginia.

I want to see the Fight for $15 succeed – for fast food workers and for anyone else who is being taken advantage of or discriminated against. Maybe then companies like McDonald’s will “fit the profile” of a corporation that does the right thing for its workers and their communities.

Editors Note:

Tamika King-Williams is one of ten plantiffs listed in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed last Thursday. In addition to the McDonald’s Corporation, the suit also lists Soweva Co. and its owner Michael Simon as defendants. Soweva Co. manages the McDonald’s franchises where the alleged discrimination occurred. Soweva has yet to offer comment. McDonald’s Corporation offered this statement to the Associated Press: 

A statement from McDonald’s Corp. said the company had not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on the allegations, but it and its franchisees “share a commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants.”

Tamika King-Williams worked at McDonald’s in South Boston, Virginia, for nearly two years. She was fired in May, 2014.