Greasy Spoon Sweatshop

Greasy Spoon Sweatshop

A Play in Five Acts


Robert S. Robbins



The same as in ACT I.
Various studio lights and a professional video camera have been set up in the dining room.


KEITH and JOE are seen conferring with the CAMERAMAN.
Joe, will you move that light closer to the counter?
Excuse me, but I need that light where it is.
And can you get these cables out of the way so nobody will trip over them?
Hey! Will you let me do my job here? You're getting in my way.
Oh sorry. Are you just about ready?
I was. Now, what exactly do you want here?
Before we open the store for business I want some footage of the crew going about their work happily and telling us how much they enjoy working here. It is for a commercial to air on the local cable system.
Are you sure they are going to be that happy this early in the morning? (He laughs at his own joke.)
KEITH (offended)
Of course they'll be happy. They will be thrilled to be in a commercial. We've been trying to get the corporation to do a national commercial in our store for years.
I just thought they might be a bit sleepy and cranky. Hell, I've been up since three o'clock setting up my equipment. I haven't gotten up so early since my days in bootcamp. Remember, I have to be at the station by six.
Won't we be late opening the store? Debbie and Mike won't have time to get everything ready for breakfast.
They'll have to do their work while we videotape the commercial. Don't let them stand around watching it and socializing. Make sure they keep busy.
JOE (looking offstage, Left)
I think I see them coming now.
(JOE exits Left. DEBBIE, MIKE, STEVE, SONYA, and LeBOTZ enter Left followed by JOE.)
Hey, you can't come in here! Steve, who is this guy? You know it violates security to let anybody in here before we open.
STEVE (big grin)
Meet Mr. Stan LeBotz. He is our union representative!
LeBOTZ (cheerfully)
Hi there folks!
JOE (stunned)
Oh my God! Oh my God!
KEITH (outraged)
What the fuck is this? Get the hell out of my store. Now!
LeBOTZ (Takes out a piece of paper)
I was wondering if you could sign this recognition form. I represent a majority of your workers. I'm with the International Union of Food Assemblers, Local 106. By signing this form you acknowledge our right to represent your employees at the bargaining table. We would like to negotiate a contract at this time.
KEITH (shaking with fury)
Get the hell out before I call the police! You are trespassing. I won't have no damn trouble makers in my store trying to turn my employees against me! Get out or so help me I'll throw you out!
LeBOTZ (reasonably)
I'll be happy to leave once you sign this form.
KEITH (He snatches the form from LeBOTZ and tears it up.)
There! That's what I think of your damn form and your damn union!
LeBOTZ (angry now)
In that case I am calling for a strike. We will all walk out right now and leave you without a workforce.
(He turns to go and motions to MIKE and the others.)
KEITH (alarmed)
Don't you dare leave, Mike. You have to open the counter. Listen everybody. I've got a television camera here and we're going to be filming a commercial. Anybody who leaves now won't be in the commercial.
Damn! I would have to miss out on being in a commercial. All because of this stupid strike.
LeBOTZ (suspicious)
Did one of you rat on us? Why does he just happen to have a camera here today? Don't trust him. It can't be a coincidence. Turn that thing off.
KEITH (smugly)
It just so happens that I'm filming a commercial to show how much my crew enjoys working here. My employees are so happy with their jobs that I want the whole community to know.
LeBOTZ (bursts out laughing)
Well I guess that's off, isn't it? Hey, leave that camera on. We'll show them how much your employees hate their jobs instead. Hey Steve, do you like working here?
STEVE (big grin)
Hell no!
Turn that damn camera off, stupid. You won't get away with this. My crew won't abandon their jobs for a sleazeball, meddling liberal. Debbie, you've worked here for over ten years. I can't believe you'd be involved in this. You'll stay and do your job, won't you?
DEBBIE (evasively)
I don't know. I kind of feel like a day off. I need a vacation.
After all the years we've worked together, you'll listen to some stranger who wants to stab your friends in the back? Don't I deserve better than this after providing you with a good job for ten years? If you wanted time off you could have requested a leave of absence.
But would you give her a paid vacation?
You shut up! What kind of lies have you been telling my employees? I know how you trouble makers operate. You sneak around to meet the employees alone and then you sell them a lot of bullshit about what you can do for them. You tell them a lot of lies about their employer to get them against him. You make out like he is getting fabulously rich off of them. What do you know about this business? Do you think I can raise wages without raising prices? Maybe I don't bring in enough money to raise wages much.
How much do you personally make from your business?
That's none of your business. Not as much as you think. I don't live in a mansion or own a fancy car. I carry a lot of debt making improvements to my stores. I have huge bank loans to pay off.
But you own several stores, don't you? And at least you can get credit which is more than you can say for your employees. Don't try to tell me that capital isn't an aspect of your personal wealth.
Mike! What kind of lies has this union creep been telling you? Did he tell you all sorts of shit about Quickie Burger's finances? Did he twist things around to make you feel like you were being taken advantage of? Because you know that just isn't true. You're not a recent hire. You know the real score.
MIKE (laconic)
Actually he didn't get into that. I don't remember him trying to portray Quickie Burger as a substantial business. Quite the opposite, he seems to consider you small fry. Anyway we just gave him our grievances and he basically confirmed them as legitimate grievances. I think he knows the business pretty well.
Grievances? You know you can come to me if you have a problem.
STEVE (bitter)
Sure, we can come to you with any problem that needs to be ignored.
You know that is not true Steve. Your problem is that you won't communicate with anyone. We don't get any feedback from you.
STEVE (defensive)
I'm too afraid to talk with anyone. I would get my head handed back to me. Whenever there is a disagreement about how something is to be done, it is decided that your way is the only way. We have no say in anything around here.
That is simply not true.
DEBBIE (angry)
Bullshit! We can't do anything the way we want to. We have to obey your rules or else. I'm sick of your petty procedures!
If any one of you walks out that door then don't expect to come back. I will terminate anyone who abandons their job.
You had better think twice about firing anyone. We have a strike fund and we can pay a year's wages to a terminated employee. Also we have established ourselves as community activists and anyone you hire to replace a terminated crewperson will be offered the same rights by the union. We are here to stay regardless of who stays on.
God damn you! You will be leaving here now. Joe, call the police. Tell them we have a trespasser disrupting our business.
(JOE goes into the office and dials the phone.)
Are we going to be shooting this commercial or what? Because I could go home and get some sleep before going to work at the station.
Stay here. I'll have this settled in a few minutes.
I know why you were shooting a commercial to show how much your employees love their jobs. It is because of Jim's death, isn't it? His suicide exposed the terrible working conditions at Quickie Burger so now you hope to repair your damaged reputation with a pathetic propaganda film. Who do you expect to fool with it? You know the best way to improve your reputation as an employer would be to accept a union. If you announced an agreement with the union, the public would be assured that working conditions will improve and nothing like that tragedy will recur again.
KEITH (less strident as he considers this) may have a point there. No, I don't think so. You would soon be protesting against some petty grievance and picket the store. The public would get tired of all the fuss between management and the union. They will avoid this restaurant and go to my competitors for a meal in peace.
Well then just consider the effect of a strike so soon after an employee kills himself to escape abuse. A young man's life has been tragically cut short because you bastards choose to treat teenagers like dirt. Imagine how the community will feel about that! Jim could have been their son. They won't want their children to work in a sweatshop. You won't find it so easy to replace your employees now. I know that three people have quit already. And I've been going around the community to talk with people. They are indignant and everybody has told me that they would sooner go on welfare than work here. We will have tremendous public support if we go on strike.
So you've been agitating my customers as well. Jim did not kill himself because of work. There were other factors involved. He was an emotionally disturbed young man. Everyone knows how timid and sensitive he was. I suspect that psychopath of a father had abused Jim and simply blamed us to relieve himself of the guilt.
LeBOTZ (insinuatingly)
Oh yeah, and what about the suicide note your employees told me you tore up? Did Jim blame his father in that note?
KEITH (stammers)
What?...What note?...There was no suicide note!
Yes there was. And if you did not find it incriminating you would not have torn it up. Since you must have thought the note significant enough to destroy, you imply that you accept the blame for his suicide.
KEITH (defensive)
I'm not responsible for Jim's death! He could have quit and found a more suitable job. Nobody was forcing him to work here. It is completely irrational to kill yourself because you don't like your job.
Maybe. But jobs are hard to find now and many people have to stick with a lousy job rather than take the risk of not finding work.
You're just a sick opportunist. A troubled youth commits suicide and you show up to take advantage of it. You wouldn't be here if there wasn't this tragedy to exploit. I bet your union couldn't be bothered to organize unskilled workers unless you saw an easy target. Where were you before this happened?
That is unfair. When a young man loses his life because a corporation does not value its employees, we feel we have an obligation to organize. We are here because there is clearly a need for us here. I don't want to see any other teenagers suffer the kind of abuse Jim was made to suffer.
Hmmph! How much does your union expect to charge my crew in dues? Fifteen dollars out of each paycheck? That is seven hundred and eighty dollars a year for each of them. With sixty employees that makes forty six thousand and eight hundred dollars your union collects every year if you can get in here. I bet you didn't tell my crew about that, did you?
No, he didn't tell us how much the dues would be.
Well that is what he is here for and once he gets it you won't be able to count on the union for much. They won't make any effort for your sake after they have your money.
The dues will be more than offset by the pay raises we will win for your employees.
KEITH (incensed)
Of course! That forty six thousand and eight hundred dollars is going to come out of my pocket. I'll be paying for a union which does nothing to make my business more productive. Why, it is just like paying protection money to organized crime bosses so I won't have any trouble here. A union is just a form of organized crime.
My, my! Are we resorting to mafia baiting now? Forty six thousand and eight hundred dollars wouldn't even cover my salary. It would barely replenish our strike fund. We certainly don't expect to sustain our union by organizing fast food restaurants. However, you might say we are here now because you created a situation which requires us to meet our obligations to our fellow workers.
SONYA (bored)
Can I go home now? I would like to go to the mall later.
Isn't she too young to get involved in something as dangerous as a strike? You better not get any minors hurt or it will be your ass.
I guess you should go home Sonya. But even though you cannot participate in the strike action, we will still fight for your rights.
(SONYA exits Left.)
You know there are some child labor issues involved. The National Labor Relations Board will be especially strict where minors are involved.
They will declare your strike illegal because it endangers minors. Christ, it is almost time to open the store. Get to work Steve.
STEVE (defiant)
I'm not going to work today. We are on strike. So go to hell!
I'll have to write you up for insubordination.
Go ahead! You see what it's like working here? It is just like being in the army. They discipline you at the drop of a hat and drill their strict procedures into you.
You always were the laziest crewperson around here. No wonder you joined the union. I could expect as much from you with your bad attitude. You'll never succeed in life.
STEVE (incensed)
That is racist! I don't succeed because I'm not meant to succeed. The black man isn't given the slightest opportunity to get ahead. This is nothing more than a dead end job. Debbie has worked here for ten years without being promoted.
That's right. You get nowhere fast if you work for a fast food restaurant.
Here come the police. Just in time. Maybe after they drag the union creep off we can get the store open on time Joe.
Everyone will have to hustle. We only have fifteen minutes.
(A police officer enters from Left.)
What seems to be the problem here?
KEITH (points to LeBOTZ)
This man is trespassing. We have not opened for business but he barged in here to disrupt things. He has been bothering my employees.
I am a union representative and I'm here in an official capacity. I was presenting Mr. McConnell with a recognition form for him to sign.
I don't recognize your union. I deal with my employees directly, not through a third party. This man has no right to be here officer.
I'll have to ask you to leave sir.
Aren't you going to arrest him?
Not if he leaves peaceably.
Very well, I'll leave.
Should we go with you?
No, you can stay on the job today. We'll discuss our options tonight. Meet me at the usual place.
(The police officer escorts LeBOTZ offstage Left.)
Well that is settled. Now we have to really hustle to get this place open before six o'clock. Don't just stand there, people. Move it!
JOE (taking charge)
Debbie, you open the grill. I'll help you get the meats and eggs down. Mike can work on getting the counter stocked up and ready. If it's not too much trouble you can do the shake machine Steve.
(DEBBIE sullenly goes about her job, slamming things down on the grill and moving very slowly. MIKE looks like he is about to cry. STEVE is furious and glares at KEITH.)
Are we going to do this now?
All right. But try not to get in anyone's way. We'll have to film them doing their work and then have me surprise them with a question about how they like working here. They'll give us a big smile and testify to the great time they're having at their jobs.
Oh please! You think they'll do this after what just happened? We should do this another day.
I really need this commercial now. Anybody will smile and act like a fool if you point a camera at them.
(The CAMERAMAN points the videocamera at KEITH.)
Okay now. I'm ready. Action!
KEITH (big smile)
Hi I'm Keith McConnell, local owner, operator of Quickie Burger! If you're interested in a good job and good times working with great people in an exciting, fast-paced work environment, then stop in today and talk with a member of our management team. We offer a flexible schedule to meet your needs and excellent benefits like free uniforms and meals. Let's hear what our crew have to say about working for Quickie Burger as they cheerfully go about their jobs. Here's Mike, a young man paying his way through college by working part time.
(KEITH and the camera approach MIKE.)
Tell us Mike, how do you like your job?
MIKE (angry)
What the fuck is this? What a fucking joke! My job is the pits and we're going on strike. How's that for a commercial?
KEITH (irritated)
Cut! Mike you're supposed to smile. And stop swearing. Do you want to be in this commercial or what? We can't use that kind of talk. It will just be edited out.
I'll smile when I feel like it. I'm sick of having to smile all the time. There is nothing to smile about working here.
How many other jobs give you the chance to be on television? You do want to be on television, don't you Mike? Your friends and parents would be so thrilled. Just help us out by telling us you like working here.
MIKE (incensed)
You are fucking incredible! You have some nerve asking me to publicly promote Quickie Burger as a good employer when we are organizing a union. Do you think I'm fucking stupid? Don't insult my intelligence, you shit for brains.
Fine! You're out of the commercial wise guy. And don't expect a good performance review next month. You'd better remember who I am and watch your language around here. Pick up those coffee stirrers.
(KEITH and the camera approach STEVE.)
Here's Steve. Quickie Burger is an equal opportunity employer committed to a diverse workforce. Steve has been with us a long time now because he loves his job. How are you doing Steve?
STEVE (sarcastic)
Not so good Keith. I'm a slave here, shackled to a grill and forced to do hard labor for less than subsistence wages. Quickie Burger is a hard task master. For God's sake viewers, save yourselves! Don't sell yourself cheap to the wage slavers.
Very funny Steve. I guess you won't be in the commercial either. What is the matter with you people? You don't appreciate what a good job you have here. Well don't just stand there. Get busy on that shake machine if you're not going to do the commercial.
STEVE (bitterly)
Yes boss, yes sir. I'm a pickin' that cotton. No need to crack that whip on a poor nigger's back.
Hey! Watch that kind of talk.
(KEITH and the camera approach DEBBIE.)
And here we have Debbie, a single mother and sole provider for her family. How's your son Christopher doing Debbie? I bet you want him to work for Quickie Burger someday because its a great job.
DEBBIE (annoyed)
Get away from me you creep. I would sooner die than see my son wind up in this hellhole. You won't get him! I'm going to put him through college so he will have a better life. He deserves better than this. Christopher isn't going to suffer your abuse until he wishes he was dead like Jim. I hate this job! I wish I was dead too!
Calm down, calm down! Well I can see this just isn't going to work. We will have to forget all about the commercial now. That is really too bad because I was looking forward to seeing my crew on television, receiving the recognition they deserve. But I guess you're too spiteful right now for us to do that for you. I guess you've allowed that union official to play upon your emotions and turn you against me. I'm really your friend you know. I've known all of you longer than he has but you'll trust him rather than me. Well I'm hurt, really hurt. If there was anything I could ever do for anybody here, you only need to have asked. I thought we were a family here.
A disfunctional family maybe.
Well a family should work things out together. So tonight I'm calling for a crew meeting to discuss your grievances. I want everybody to be there. You'll be paid for the meeting and we will have a pizza delivered. We don't need a third party to work out our problems.
STEVE (outraged)
But Mr. LeBotz wanted to meet with us tonight. You're just trying to pre-empt his meeting.
KEITH (firmly)
Attendance is mandatory!