Fast Food Nation Study Guide

Chapter 3 - "Behind The Counter"

This chapter takes us to Colorado Springs, CO--where Academy Boulevard is the main artery running through pervasive urban sprawl. Schlosser discusses the history of this city, which is home to many former California residents. Colorado Springs was a sleepy town until the outbreak of World War II, when military spending brought thousands of troops to the area. After the war, more bases were opened; today, half of the jobs here still depend on military spending. The area has grown very conservative in recent years and is home to a high concentration of evangelicals. While futuristic industries--such as aerospace and computer software--are an important part of the economy, the largest private employer is the restaurant business.

Schlosser considers how teenagers have been, for some time, the bulk of the fast-food workforce--this is because the fast-food industry seeks employees who are unskilled and willing to work part-time for low wages. The fast-food industry is modeled after assembly line systems, which were used by early twentieth-century manufacturers. “Throughput” is the most important aspect of this labor system-- that is, the speed and volume of a factory’s (or fast-food restaurant’s) flow. Fast-food restaurants are strictly regimented, giving employers power over their employees, who become dispensable. Because the fast-food industry relies on an operating system and machines, it does not require its workers to be skilled. Besides teenagers, the fast-food industry workforce is comprised of elderly, disabled, and immigrant individuals. For one-sixth of the nation’s restaurant employees, English is a second language.

Schlosser observes that while fast-food chains continue to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies for training employees, they quietly spend enormous sums on research and technology to eliminate employee training. Fast-food restaurants employ the highest rate of low-wage workers, have among the highest turnover rates, and pay minimum wage to a higher proportion of its employees than any other American industry. While employees’ wages have declined, restaurant executives’ salaries have increased substantially. Employees that attempt to unionize are typically countered with high-priced attorneys or a restaurant that simply closes all together.

Schlosser interviews area high-school students and learns that many of them are working twelve-hour shifts after school and on weekends. Students work at fast-food restaurants, in the mall, or as telemarketers. School officials are very concerned that these students-- many of whom spend their money on cars, cell phones, or designer clothes-- are sacrificing their education for long hours at work. Schlosser notes that none of the students he met in Colorado Springs even thought of forming a union. When they become dissatisfied with a job, they quit and find another one. Schlosser also considers the increase in on-the-job violence due to robberies. While many restaurants attempt to increase security, some critics argue that their best plan would be to increase wages because no other American industry is robbed so frequently by its own employees.

Notes - In this part of his book, Schlosser considers the workforce that keeps the fast-food industry running. Because this workforce is predominantly comprised of teens, Schlosser spends much of the chapter considering how teens engage the fast-food industry--what are their working conditions; how does a “part-time” job interfere with school work; how do teens spend their money?

While Schlosser also explores the history of attempted unionization in fast-food restaurants, he does not think about the real potential for teens to unionize. Schlosser shows how teens in Colorado Springs do not think about unions, frequently quit their jobs, and spend their money on wasteful, status-oriented items. Could these individuals form viable unions? If they did, would they be forced out of fast-food jobs, which would certainly become more attractive to better-qualified individuals? Would Americans be interested in spending more money on this food, which would seemingly have to become more expensive to cover the increased wages/ benefits of the fast-food workforce?

Finally, the reader should consider the relative flaws and assets of setting this part of the study in Colorado Springs. Schlosser is able to provide a somewhat in-depth analysis of a particular place in a particular time. However, while Colorado Springs is a rich resource because of its history and present economic situation, it is not representative of the entire fast-food nation.

Cite this page: Staff. "TheBestNotes on Fast Food Nation". . 09 May 2017