american workers at mcdonalds

‘WE ALL QUIT’: How America’s Workers Are Taking Back Their Power

The Covid-19 pandemic took a major toll on the workforce. While some people lost their jobs, others stayed on as “essential workers.” Of course, the health care workers worked tirelessly during this time, but more surprisingly, so did low-paid employees at fast food establishments and the like. These jobs have been looked down at — we all know the classic “if you don’t do your homework, you’re going to end up at McDonald’s.” But suddenly these employees were deemed essential enough for a global pandemic, showing they are more valuable than they get credit for. In fact, the pandemic made many American workers realize that they deserve better than what their current job provides. They are quitting in droves and more power to them.


WE ALL QUIT, SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE,” read a sign outside a Burger King in Lincoln, Nebraska in early July.


Almost the entire crew and managers have walked out until further notice,” said a sign outside a Chipotle in Philadelphia. 

“Closed indefinitely because Dollar General doesn’t pay a living wage or treat their employees with respect,” read another post outside a Dollar General in Eliot, Maine.

For once, low-paid American workers in fast food, retail, and hospitality have leverage. The pandemic has proved their importance, and they took the opportunity to protest bad working conditions, no health care, no paid sick leave, poor wages, and mistreatment. These “essential workers” actually have little protection by labor laws. The injustice is deafening.


“It’s an act of protest against abuses and exploitative conditions,” said Patricia Campos Medina, executive director of the Worker’s Institute at Cornell University. “It’s a sense of empowerment that workers don’t have to tolerate that kind of abuse.[1]

“The Great Resignation” of American Workers

This “mass exodus” began in early 2021, and some people call it “the great resignation.” In April alone, 4 million people quit their jobs. Some are hopeful they could find better working conditions, better hours, and better pay in another position. However, some left because of burnout — after all, they had just worked through a global pandemic. This new leverage allows people to prioritize their wellbeing and mental health. [2]


The pandemic helped many American workers rethink their life and goals. And with the huge numbers of resignations, one might assume there are plentiful jobs. However, the U.S.’s economy is struggling with a recession., and despite this, employers complain about labor shortages. [3] Meanwhile, these very employers may have played a big role in why their workers left.


The pandemic has exacerbated poor working conditions and poor company cultures, pushing already exhausted workers to a breaking point. Essentially, companies that didn’t support their workers eventually drove them away. “Our data over the years has always shown that the thing people care about most is how companies treat their employees,” said Alison Omens, chief strategy officer of JUST Capital. According to their metrics, “good treatment of employees” tended to include wages, benefits, security, opportunities for growth, safety, and equity.

For almost everyone,” said Ross Seychell, chief people officer at Personio, “the pandemic put an acute focus on… how has this company I’ve given a lot to handled me or my health or happiness during this time?I’m hearing it a lot: ‘I’m going to go somewhere I’m valued’.” [4]

“What made you quit your job?”

One Reddit thread asked, “What made you quit your job?” And the top comment was, “Horrible leadership and general lack of appreciation for the employees.” Keep in mind that this thread began three years ago. And yet, so many of the stories remain similar to what American workers are experiencing today. It comes to show that the pandemic isn’t quite responsible for “the Great Resignation.” It only put a spotlight on issues that were already there.

“High stress, low pay, killing myself to get the job done, and then the manager pulled me aside during year 3 to tell me that my performance is only satisfactory; I need to exceed expectations to qualify for a cost of living increase to my wage,” said one comment. “Given inflation, I’m not taking a pay cut to do a thankless job.”

“I always wanted to work for a well-known high-end brand,” explained a commenter. “Somehow I landed that job, and I loved the company, loved the products, loved the history…but the people working there were so full of themselves and against any new ideas, I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

I quit a job when, as an adult female shift manager, found out that 3 teenage boys were paid more than me part-time,” said another comment. “I tried to make it through the evening shift, but we got so busy and I was so overworked that I couldn’t take it and just left. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m a ‘give 30 days notice’ kinda person, but that job legit broke me.”

Lasting Changes for American Workers?

This movement could spark a real change for American workers. Seychell advises companies to evaluate how they treated their people over the past year and a half; this could indicate their future. It’s slowly becoming mandatory for companies to seriously invest in their employee’s well-being. As they should already be doing.


When there’s a lot of people moving, that costs companies in terms of turnover and lost productivity,” Seychell said. “It takes six to nine months to onboard someone to be fully effective. Companies that lose a lot of their workforce are going to struggle with this over the next 12 to 16 months, and maybe much longer. Companies that don’t invest in their people will fall behind.”


  1. “‘WE ALL QUIT’: How American Workers Are Taking Back Their Power.” Vice. Lauren Kaori Gurley. July 23, 2021
  2. “‘I’d rather bet on myself’: Workers are quitting their jobs to put themselves first.CNBC. Jennifer Liu. June 24, 2021
  3. “As The Pandemic Recedes, Millions Of Workers Are Saying ‘I Quit’.NPR. Andrea Hsu. June 24, 2021
  4. “The Great Resignation: How employers drove workers to quit.BBC. Kate Morgan. July 1, 2021 
  5. “What made you quit your job?Reddit
Sarah Biren
Freelance Writer
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender.