Waffle House, like many struggling industries across the country, has chosen to place the burden of its lost profits on the shoulders of those who keep it running every day of the year. COVID-19 has brought opportunity again and again for corporate entities and long-standing business empires to ravage the pockets of their workers, those whose labor has lined corporate pockets for generations. The capitalist class has, not unexpectedly, proven itself unwilling to place human lives over profit-hoarding and welfare for the rich. The Party for Socialism and Liberation’s own Jason Carroll reports directly from the front lines of this struggle, bringing to light the unconscionable disregard Waffle House has shown for its workers in this crisis, and long before.
“Waffle House, instead of shutting down, because they’re losing millions in profit, decided to cut the pay of their managers and cooks while they are on the front lines of the pandemic, risking their lives and the lives of their families,” says Carroll of the WH response to COVID-19. In addition to wide-scale layoffs, what few hours are available are being diverted to management, leaving just scraps of a schedule for other workers to fight over. Of the diminished availability of hours Carroll said, “The fight for hours was already a struggle before these trying times. A coworker recalls working 17 hour days between three different stores just to get the hours he needed. When he refused to go to the other stores in the district, they cut his hours.”
“I worked there for over three years and made them right under half a million dollars in profit. When the lockdown on eat-in restaurants began, my shift cooked the highest amount of sales within the whole Western North Carolina region,” Carroll explains. Despite impressive sales and admirable dedication from staff, Carroll said, “Four days later they laid me off and put out the announcement that they were cutting pay two days after.”
Even in periods of available work during COVID-19, one worker in Carroll’s store reported being highly allergic to bleach. During COVID-19, stores have been instructed to sanitize thoroughly and regularly. Carroll said, “She begged them to try and find an alternative, they told her if it bothers her that bad to find another job.” Like many of the stunning decisions WH has made in the past few weeks, workers were left astonished by such an unfeeling response. Elaborating, Carroll reported “She’s worked with the company for over 10 years,” yet still is not guaranteed even basic considerations. But flippant treatment of its workers did not begin with this pandemic.
While Carroll reports grossly negligent, profit hungry responses from his former employer during the COVID-19 crisis, these issues are far from new or unheard of among WH workers. As an example, Carroll explained that WH, as a matter of policy, takes a food charge out of its worker’s paychecks, “Whether you ate at work or not.” In addition, vacation hours for cooks are not paid at the same rate as their regular hours. Like many food service employers, they pay their servers an average of $3.60 per hour, “and foot the rest of the bill to the customer.” As recently as this year, after “over-producing and over scheduling” for the 2019 winter holiday season, WH began the new year by “begging everybody to take non-paid vacations.” The same worker whose bleach allergy would not be accommodated had previously had her job threatened when she called in eight hours before her shift, reporting that her mother was gravely ill and near death. Despite the severity of the circumstances, she was told to report as scheduled to her shift or she would be terminated.
Recognizing the injustice and cruelty of WH pay, policy and implementation, in 2019 workers at Carroll’s location began talking about unionizing. Though Carroll reports that the majority of his store was prepared to vote, when it was decided that they had to get the entire district to vote, motivation waned. Making it clear that WH was not “like a family,” Carroll reports that “stores were pitted against each other and there was no trust between the employees of varying stores.” As union talks dragged out and lost momentum, eventually “things just fizzled out.” Despite not seeing union efforts come to fruition, Carroll remains clear and confident in his own work and the work of his colleagues.
“We made that store run,” says Carroll. After his appalling mistreatment at the hands of a company for which he had earned hundreds of thousands in profit, Carroll made the difficult decision not to return to his job after COVID-19. Carroll remains vigilant in his dedication to the struggle of the working class, offering solidarity, commitment, and courageous words during his departure from WH: “Waffle House would be nothing without the workers it exploits.” Mirroring this sentiment, and the enduring strength of the working class, he recalls the timely words of revolutionary optimism from a coworker, “Just stop and look around for a second… Workers are what make the world run.” In times of crisis, in all times, it is indeed workers who make the world run.