“...I'm proud of my last name... my mother helped get the first African American mayor of Chicago elected.”
Bradette McClain is a 41-year-old mother who lives with her family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is a fast food worker who makes $7.25 per hour. Three months ago, after her rent increased and she missed payment, Bradette and her family were forced to live in a homeless shelter. After living in the shelter for a short while, she found a new home on the Northeast side of Milwaukee, but the amount due in rent meant that she and her family had to rely on food stamps for their meals. Most months, after paying her rent, Bradette can barely afford her heating and water bill, and each year she waits for tax season in order to have a few extra hundred dollars to buy furniture. She wants to work 40 hours per week, but rarely gets scheduled to do so, often, critics say, because companies do not want to pay for full-time employee benefits, such as healthcare.
“This is not fun and games,” Bradette said. “I don’t want my kids to struggle like me. I want my kids to have a better future, so when they have kids, they be able to take their kids here, take their kids there. At least save some money. What am I going to save? I don’t have nothing to save at all."
“We can’t keep talking in the shadows. If it wasn’t for us, the restaurants would not be running. I’m tired. I really is. We need to stand up and fight for this no matter what. No matter what. I don’t care if I got to keep doing this over and over and over and over again. Somebody going to hear us.”
No one who controls Bradette’s working wage seems to be listening. 52 percent of fast food workers in the United States are enrolled in public assistance programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. Bradette’s previous employer, McDonald’s, made a profit of 1.31 billion in 2015. Bradette’s current fast food employer, Popeyes, was bought by Restaurant Brands International, a Canadian multinational fast food holding company, and now pays a lower corporate tax rate than they did while headquartered in the United States. Bradette was shocked when she learned how much her company makes each year because she said that she is struggling more and more to make ends meet. To top this struggle, she also has to serve disrespectful customers. One day, near the end of her shift, a customer refused to walk up to her cashier. Bradette said, “My line had cleared, so I said, 'Excuse me ma’am I can take you up over here.'” The customer said, “No.” Bradette was confused. Her cashier was the only cashier that was open. Bradette’s manager came out and told the customer that Bradette was ready to take her order. The customer looked at the manager and said, “I don’t want to give my money to people like her.” The manager looked at Bradette and then back at the customer and said, “You know what. If you don’t want to give money to people like her, we don’t want your money. Could you please leave my restaurant?” The customer left out the restaurant, but Bradette had, “never been more insulted a day in my life.”
As a child, Bradette’s role model was her English teacher, Mr. Woods. Bradette said that Mr. Woods would always encourage her about her future, telling her that she was, “Going to have a good future. Don’t let what people say to you bring you down.” Bradette said that Mr. Woods, “Cared about all of us in that classroom. He cared how our work was, how we came to school, when we didn’t come to school. I remember this one girl, she came to school and her shoes had holes in them. He went and bought her a new pair of shoes. He taught us, 'Don’t make fun of people like that because you don’t know what their situation is. If they need help, go help them.'”
This piece was filmed in 2017.