Five Questions for Mary Carmen Farfan, A Fasting Fast Food Worker

By Julianne Hing Apr 27, 2015

Today marks the 9th day Mary Carmen Farfan has been fasting. The 46-year-old mother of four works at Burger King and joined a 15-day fast with seven other women in Los Angeles to call attention to a national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Farfan and her fellow fasters have targeted Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti who’s called for a $13.25 minimum wage increase by 2017. Some city council members have called for another plan which would allow for a gradual increase to $15.25 by the year 2019, but neither plan, they say, is sufficient nor soon enough.

Farfan spoke to Colorlines on Friday, her 9th day of fasting, underneath a tent parked outside Los Angeles’ City Hall, where she and other fasters, dressed in orange scarves and huddled under blankets, have held vigil every day.

How are you feeling right now?

I am a little dizzy sometimes and just very tired. I got a little sick, because it’s too cold. And we stay here all day, from 9 or 10 in the morning until 8 at night. It’s hard. But the important thing is what we do and why we do it.

How long have you worked at Burger King?

I have worked there for one year, but actually I [came] back. Because 10 years ago I’m working there at the same location. But what I find when I come back is it’s worse because 10 years ago I get more money for my job. Back then we had full-time and overtime. I found my paycheck from 10 years ago, and I would get $900, and now, I get just 26, or 28 hours per week so my check is $430, $420, or $450, but no more.

When I get my paycheck, I go buy stuff for the house and take care of bills and after two or three days I don’t have any money.

Do you want more hours?

Of course I want more hours. I need more hours. I’m almost 30 hours a week but now sometimes I work just two hours a day. But nobody can get even 30 hours because if they give us 30 hours they have to give us benefits so the corporation does this and they give us part time and nobody can force them to give us benefits.

Tell me about the work you do at Burger King.

I work in the kitchen. I used to do both cashier side and cooking, but now they put me in the kitchen. Now, they have three to four cashiers and only two cook persons so you can imagine at lunch time, when I work 11 [a.m.] to 5 [p.m.] shifts, I go to work and the line is out the door. I have to do everything by myself in the kitchen. There’s supposed to be two people per side, for Whoppers and for specialty items. I’m on the specialty items side so I do chicken, fish, chicken nuggets. But I have to cook my sandwiches, wrap them up, run back and forth, and put french fries and onion rings into the fryer.

I know how to do my job but it’s not fair. All that work for one person and just $9 an hour? The french fries basket is so heavy that now when I flip it I have pain in my bones and in my arms for lifting it so much. And I get so many burns on my arms. [Farfan lifted her sleeve to show a crosshatch of burn scars on her forearms.]

Can you tell me more about what $9 an hour means for your family, and what you want people to know about what that’s like?

For example, I would love to buy fresh food and the best products, but I can’t do that at the market. I have to get everything on discount. Last month my 10-year-old boy, his shoes broke, so we had to buy another [pair]. The money for his shoes is [taken] from our grocery money.

My husband, he works but also for minimum wage too. Our rent is $1,236, so he works just to pay rent. Every month it’s the same and he says again, “I work just to pay rent and nothing else.” My youngest kids, they don’t really understand. They ask me, “Why don’t you have money?”

I feel the mayor doesn’t pay attention to us. I want to tell him: come to my home. Your wife can take my place. You my husband’s place and you can feel what it’s really like.