Location: Airport Road and Calle Lucia
Order: Green chile double cheeseburger, Honey Mustard Snack Wrap, apple pie, small fries, regular orange drink.
Is what a Santa Fean wants what a Santa Fean gets at McDonald’s today?
The short answer is yes: Green chile is available on any sandwich at no extra charge.
But can immigrants to Santa Fe get what they want at McDonald’s?
With a green chile double cheeseburger in my stomach (surprisingly delicious, though I’m a red-chile man), I drive over to the offices of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant-rights organization, to interview a former employee involved in a 2004 walk-out.
I’m used to the stereotype that McDonald’s employees are largely teenagers who don’t give a McRat’s ass what I want. In Santa Fe, however, the kitchens are mostly staffed by motherly women who go about their work in the professional manner of an Intel microprocessor line worker.
I want to believe that because Santa Fe’s minimum wage is $9.50, I don’t have to feel guilty. And I want to accept the data in McDonald’s’ “Helping the Community Grow” brochures that state that 44 percent of McDonald’s’ employees and 32 percent of its managers are Hispanic. I want to ignore that the statistic doesn’t carry over into ownership; less than 13 percent of franchises in the region are Hispanic-owned.
But I remember something Qasimi said about why she agreed to dinner at McDonald’s: “I just feel like, if you’re going to ask questions, then you can’t be self-limiting. That doesn’t help anybody. It’s ignorant and delusional.”
Santa Fe’s McDonald’s are 100 percent Hispanic-owned—by the Zamora family. However, Hispanic ownership doesn’t guarantee quality treatment of Mexican immigrant employees.
“Anna,” who was one of the six employees who filed suit against the Zamoras’ company MCZ Inc. in 2004, agrees to an interview on the condition of anonymity. She took the job in 1996 after emigrating from Mexico, where she had worked in furniture sales, but never before in a restaurant. The McDonald’s kitchen, she says, was technologically advanced and she had to figure it out, by burns and cuts, with very little training, how to operate it. (The Zamoras would not agree to be interviewed for this story.)
“At the time, I didn’t have any idea what McDonald’s was; what I needed was a job,” Anna says through a Somos’ translator. “When I started, the job was not good, not bad, but balanced…I could see that some employees were getting special preference. And, there was no vacation, no health care, no benefits, but I knew this since the beginning.”
These were small problems, Anna says, but later, a pregnancy posed a much bigger conflict between her and the management. She says she couldn’t take time off work to see a doctor and, later, when her son was older, she had trouble getting off work in time to pick him up from school.
In 2004, Santa Fe’s living wage ordinance went into effect and the wage rose to $8.50 per hour. According to news reports from October 2004, a group of immigrant mothers employed by McDonald’s on Pacheco walked out after what they described as verbal abuse. They alleged that the store’s managers told them they had to work twice as hard if they wanted to keep their now higher-paying jobs.
“They constantly verbally insulted us, humiliated us and reproached us for the new living wage law,” one of the former employees said in a press conference. “On several occasions, they told us that we were pigs and that we did not deserve $8.50.”
The women sued and, a year later, received an undisclosed settlement from MCZ. Anna is now a self-employed house cleaner. I ask whether she still eats at McDonald’s.
“No,” she says. “It was not a very good experience and I really don’t like the food there.”
I say I disagree and explain that this piece is about how Santa Fe’s McDonald’s are so much superior to those elsewhere. As the translator relates that to her, Anna looks away.
“I do respect your opinion,” she then says, more impassioned than before. “I don’t have anything against McDonald’s, their salads, their food, their hamburgers. What I am against is an abusive employer. You get that good experience, the warm food, the clean tables, the nice atmosphere, because of the pressure an abusive employer is putting on their employees. I know, I was on the other side. McDonald’s’ service could be perfect, but how am I going to support a place that does not respect their employees, those same employees who are putting forth their best effort to give the best quality to the customers?”
I tell her that’s one of the things that makes me happiest about Santa Fe’s McDonald’s; the citizenry passed a living-wage ordinance and, when McDonald’s workers saw it violated, they fought for their rights and won. Isn’t that something to be proud of?
“We are agreeing now,” she says.