Fried chicken chain Popeyes launched a new chicken sandwich on Aug. 12. The sandwich is good. Perhaps not good enough to justify the viral national craze that has resulted in Popeyes actually running out of said sandwich the month before it was supposed to, but good.
While Popeyes works to acquire of the sandwich, it wants you to download an app that will (among other non-sandwich related functions) tell you when you can obtain more of the sandwich. I am here to tell you: Do not download the Popeyes sandwich app.
The Popeyes sandwich craze seemed pretty harmless for a while. I myself ate the sandwich shortly after its release on Aug. 14, when the sandwich tsunami was only in the “huh that’s weird, the tide is really low” phase. But our Popeyes sandwich mania has now reached full-on “Pickle Riiiiick!” status, exacerbating grueling labor conditions and sparking confrontations between irrationally furious customers and poorly compensated, overworked retail workers.
Earlier this month, an employee at a Gainesville, Florida area Popeyes location was reportedly hospitalized when she was overwhelmed by orders and suffered a workplace injury. There have also been reports of lines at Popeyes locations causing dangerous conditions, resulting in traffic accidents and wasted police resources. Per Business Insider, which interviewed five Popeyes workers:
Workers said they were overwhelmed and exhausted, and many are considering quitting their jobs... “I was working like a slave in the back prepping the buns with pickles and the spicy mayo,” said an 18-year-old Popeyes crew member in Orange County, California.
... The Orange County employee estimated that he made at least 600 sandwiches on Saturday during an 11-hour shift. One order consisted of 35 spicy chicken sandwiches.
“The issue with Popeyes or any fast food is the treatment and the amount of pay that a worker gets,” a former Popeyes employee in Newark, New Jersey, who quit as a never-ending flood of customers came in, told Business Insider. “... The added demand increased the amount of work tenfold, while I still get paid next to nothing.”
Another manager at a Popeyes location on the East Coast told the site, “I had customers nearly fight some of my coworkers because they were told that we were not serving the sandwich because we had ran out.” Another, this time in California, told Business Insider that they “had an instance where a customer was threatening to assault me when I was taking out trash. A customer sees me and shouts: ‘Do we have a problem or what! Why no sandwiches! You guys are the third Popeyes to say so!’”
Amid all this, the memes mocking overworked Popeyes employees started circulating.
There is no indication as of right now that Popeyes employees responsible for the vast majority of sandwich’s success—shipping, cooking, and selling it—will share in any of the treasure it earned beyond whatever they earned from longer shifts. That’s despite workers in the fast-food industry calling attention to labor conditions that are growing undeniably worse, like algorithmic scheduling that assigns employees bizarre and constantly shifting hours with little notice, or deliberate understaffing paired with unrelenting pressure to work faster. In 2017, the Guardian profiled a Popeyes worker and labor activist in Kansas that was driven into homelessness despite working six days a week (including a separate janitorial job). That profile mentioned that Popeyes workers “have a company-mandated 180 seconds to take the order, cook the order, bag the order and deliver it to the drive-thru window.”
In a statement to Business Insider, CEO Jose Cil of Popeyes’ parent company, Restaurant Brands International,acknowledged that his employees “worked really hard, and actually the success that we’ve seen with the launch of the chicken sandwich is really a success that’s been driven by our franchise partners as well as our team members and the restaurants.” As our sister site Splinter noted, SEC filings from January show Cil makes $800,000 a year with a “target bonus opportunity” of up to “300% of his annual salary.” (The median fast-food cook makes $22,330 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
This is not specifically a problem with the sandwich, or Popeyes’, or even fast-food in general: Low-wage labor in the U.S. is subject to systematically shitty treatment ranging from dangerous working conditions and wage stagnation to rampant wage theft and reclassifying large segments of the workforce as contractors not entitled to basic rights. These problems are deeply entrenched and are not going away without radical reform, which you should support if you enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor, like chicken sandwiches, and not only when you feel guilty about it, like after you realize the chicken sandwich has consequences.