The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Is Used To Exploit Popeyes Employees Like Slaves

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From Ryan Fan

As an avid supporter of the new Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, one of God’s greatest gifts to the Earth, I say this with assurity: Popeyes employees must be paid more, as soon as possible.

The multiple times I have gotten the sandwich, I have waited on lines that have stretched the doors, with impatient customers near me as they wanted to get a bite of the viral Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. I understood their frustrations: the sandwich is the best restaurant item I have ever tasted in a very long time.

I remember standing through a line in Brooklyn during the first wave of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich explosion. There was a line leading out of the store, onto the sidewalk, and employees were churning out sandwiches like an assembly line.

The fortunate part of the encounter was that I only had to wait in line for 20 minutes: the employees seemed to know what to expect. Few people, if any, ordered anything outside the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich (the spicy version, at that), and the kitchen was frantically mass-producing sandwiches for its line.

The second time I went to a Popeyes in New Carrollton, Maryland. It was 12 p.m. on a Saturday. The parking lot was full and I had to wait for five minutes for someone to leave their spot. Again, I waited for 20 minutes to get a sandwich, and asked the cashier if they were being paid more since the chicken sandwich has exploded. He replied negatively, shaking his head and snickering.

“I was working like a slave in the back prepping the buns with pickles and the spicy mayo,” one 18-year-old Popeyes crew member told Business Insider in August.

Others claimed similar conditions to Business Insider, working 60-hour-weeks and days without breaks. Overwhelmed, exhausted, many Popeyes employees have wanted to quit. They have even faced violence at some locations, with viral videos circulating of occasions like brawls inside Popeyes, an employee being assaulted by a customer jumping through a drive-thru, and sauce and utensils thrown at employees.

Luckily, the sandwich sold out for a good amount of time to give Popeyes employees some respite, but the benefit for the company itself was clear: Popeyes gained $65 million in media value from the Chicken Sandwich Wars with Chick-fil-A.

Popeyes has clearly benefited. But its employees haven’t, and Popeyes employees have not been adequately compensated for the explosion of the chicken sandwich. Employees worked tirelessly, many without even a living wage. In some states, employees make less than $10 an hour.

Are Popeyes employees being exploited? Yes. I would even go as far as to say they are being exploited like slaves.

The only vindication of Popeyes is that the problem is endemic of the whole fast-food and retail industries. Yes, fast food workers are being exploited across the country, and have been for a while. I recall working at Wal-Mart right before college, and working 9-hour shifts for 9 dollars an hour was very difficult. I don’t think I could have worked like that for a long time, with very little income, benefits, and general compensation.

Catching national attention from Popeyes is a viral video of seven Popeyes employees getting into a brawl in a Milwaukee chain. Popeyes swiftly fired the seven employees. A brief from Fox News says that “exactly what sparked the ruckus remains unclear at this time.”

Perhaps what sparked the “ruckus” was frustration on from the workers: frustration at the lack of a livable wage, frustration at having to shoulder the burden of extremely high demand from the sandwich, and frustration at being forced to endure a hostile work environment.

And Popeyes has been in the news for not so glamorous reasons either. One Texas Popeyes had an employee bringing a 9-year-old boy to the kitchen. An anonymous employee at the chain addressed the kitchen being “very short-staffed”. Another Popeyes in Prince George’s County had a customer fatally stab another man for cutting in front of the line. Popeyes employees at a Los Angeles chain fought a co-worker after he allegedly sold chicken sandwiches on the side.

Ask yourself: if you were a Popeyes employee, wouldn’t you try to sell chickens on the side? Wouldn’t you try to find ways to expedite the line? Wouldn’t you be on edge to the point of fighting your co-workers?

Part of the difficulty is that it is extremely difficult for fast food workers to unionize and fight for their rights. Many Popeyes employees don’t have another option than to work for the chain, and the chain is exploiting that vulnerability.

Again, I am not singling out only Popeyes for its inability to provide for a secure wage and safe working conditions for its employees. All fast-food chains are guilty of taking corporate interests in expense of the well-being of their employees. I don’t expect Wendy’s, McDonald’s, or Chick-fil-A to be any different in its response to a boom in business.

But Popeyes is neglecting the human cost of its viral business boom. And that human cost comes at making work hell for a plethora of human beings, being treated like slaves to make money for a corporate restaurant chain.

The silver lining is that the power lies with the consumer. Consumers like myself can very clearly see Popeyes employees being treated poorly, and poorly compensated for being so.

Popeyes is exploiting its employees as if they’re slaves, and it’s time for that reality to change. We’re the ones that can help make the difference.

Written by

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire,” God’s gift to the Earth. E-mail:

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