It’s not unheard of for politicians to give special considerations to interest groups based on perks, but selling out thousands of workers for some cheap Taco Bell tacos is pretty harsh.
Lawmakers celebrated “Taco Tuesday” by receiving over 6,000 free tacos sent in by Taco Bell franchise owners grateful for their efforts to keep fast food employees from unionizing, along with supporting a host of other pro-business legislation during the new congressional term. Guess who made those tacos? The same employees Taco Bell and lawmakers are conspiring to screw out of better pay.
The average Taco Bell employee makes just $8 an hour, with many hovering close to $7.25, the lowest possible amount a company can pay. It’s no wonder then that many of Taco Bell’s employees turn to food stamps and subsidized housing in order to make ends meet – at considerable cost to the taxpayer.
But the plight of the minimum wage worker seemed to be the furthest thing from the minds of those in the Capitol offices. According to The Intercept’s Lee Fang, lobbyists said every political staffer they talked to was ecstatic about the free tacos.
“It’s been going on for quite a few years now, it is infamous. Everybody looks forward to it from year to year. It’s a free for all,” said Joye Smith, a franchisee from Northern California. “This is how we want to say thank you for all that you do for us,” she added, noting that some congressional staffers bring boxes down to haul more tacos back to the office.
“We love our food and we’re glad to see our staffers love the food as well,” said Rich Lepping, a Madison, Wisconsin-area franchise store owner.
Louis Brown, a franchisee from San Diego, said that congressional staffers would ask him about the reception during his meetings with them. “Every office we went to, they knew about this. Everybody,” he chuckled.
While the free tacos have become an annual event, Taco Bell owners have reason to be extra generous with this new Republican Congress. Lawmakers have made it clear that corporate America’s agenda is their utmost priority.
Aside from torpedoing President Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour (a boost that would affect almost every Taco Bell employee in the country), Congress has been more than willing to work towards undermining unionization efforts and carve out massive exemptions in the healthcare laws that will allow places like Taco Bell (and McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, and Burger King, etc.) to avoid being required to give their employees health benefits as originally mandated in Obama’s sweeping healthcare reforms.
As Fang points out, fast food restaurants already scored an easy layup when the Republican-majority House of Representatives quickly passed a bill that would require employees work 40 hours rather than 30 in order to qualify for health insurance through work. This would have the intended effect of preventing thousands of employees from receiving healthcare through their employer and instead move them into the government-run exchanges. That would suit Taco Bell just fine. As we’ve seen, fast food companies love to subsidize their low wages with government tax money.
So while lawmakers seem to be treating their free tacos as a light, fun diversion, they are really enjoying the fruits of their hard work. It’s just too bad they can’t recognize the value of hard work in others and pay them accordingly. So after shoving 6,000 free Taco Bell tacos into their mouths, they may want to ask themselves whether a belly full of ground beef – or the Taco Bell equivalent – is really worth it.
Feature image via Mike Mozart/Flickr