Nobody grows up wanting to be burger flipper at a fast food joint.
It is difficult and thankless work performed by those desperate for a paycheck, any paycheck, even one that pays minimum wage and paltry benefits.
At best, it is a sort of Ellis Island Employment Service for newcomers to our country who are looking for a foothold in a new land and a few bucks in their pockets.
At worst, it is an industry that pays poverty wages while collecting billions in revenues each year.
According to one published report, chief executives at the nation's top restaurant companies earn more in one morning than the average minimum-wage worker in their eateries makes all year.
But now, workers from McDonalds, KFC and other fast food outlets are starting to organize and make demands. They staged a walkout this past week in the Midwest and on the East Coast, seeking a 100 percent increase in their salaries. That would up their pay to $15 an hour, $16 an hour in California.
Or a little more than $30,000 a year, less deductions.
Labor unions gain a foothold when employers mistreat their workers. And if it happens in the fast food industry, it should come as no surprise.
The popular perception is that fast food employees are primarily teenagers, picking up a little spending money working after school and on weekends.
But a University of Massachusetts study found that the average age of today's fast food worker is 32. It is also found that "if a worker today is employed full time for a full 52-week year at a minimum wage job today, she or he is making $15,080. This is 19 percent below the official poverty line for a family of three."
McDonald's, which has contributed millions to charity over the years, apparently doesn't see a need to extend charity to its own employees. In fact, the company, which employs 1.8 million workers, has raised insensitivity to a new level.
Several months ago, McDonald's decided to emphasize providing service with a smile, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
In a webcast McDonald's executives held with franchise owners, the company said 1 in 5 customer complaints are related to friendliness issues "and it's increasing," according to a slide from the presentation reviewed by the Journal. The webcast identified the top complaint as "rude or unprofessional employees."
"Service is broken," said a slide used at the meeting.
It has apparently never occurred to the company that a happy employee is an efficient employee. Want warmth, professionalism and that can-do spirit from an overworked employee who smells like French fries and can barely afford the price of a Big Mac? Try paying a living wage and offering a realistic chance for a raise or advancement.
Shortly after scratching their collective heads over their surly employee problem, benevolent McDonald's executives launched a website devoted to financial advice for its employees.
Called Practical Money Skills for Life, it includes a tool called a budget journal. In a sample monthly budget, it lists $1,105 income from a first job and $955 from a second job.
The message is clear: If you're working for McDonald's and you don't want to live in a cardboard condo, you had better find a second job.
Add to the list of corporate transgressions: A former employee in Pennsylvania filed suit because she said she had to access her wages from a debit card laden with fees. In her lawsuit, Natalie Gunshannon said she was charged $1.50 fee for ATM withdrawals, a $10 inactivity fee after 90 days, and a 75-cent online payment fee per transaction and other fees. All told, it reduced her pay to below minimum wage.
It's probably unrealistic to think the fast food industry would experience some sort of epiphany and double the salaries of its employees. This is, after all, a business with a lot of ethical shortcomings, including the fact that their product if used frequently enough can kill you.
The best hope for employees is to organize or hope for a raise in the federal minimum wage. President Obama has called for an increase to $9 an hour but the way Congress operates these days, it could be a long time coming.
If it does get passed, you can bet that the increase will be passed on to the consumer. That triple cheeseburger with five strips of bacon will cost you more.
But if that limits the amount of fast food you consume, it's not necessarily a bad thing.