Undercover Boss is fake. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s a fake show. If you watch it for 5 minutes, a CEO will go “undercover” in a disguise in the sense that wearing large glasses with no other changes is a disguise. It’s a fantasy world where Hooters waitresses don’t notice that instead of a fifteen year old with acne, the new fry cook is a 55 year old white man who keeps saying he’s “working diligently to distribute the salt evenly and create value add.”
Worse, every worker comes up to the obvious CEO (who is followed by a camera crew) and tells them their sob stories. Just like in real life, one minute your training manager is telling you how to fold sweatshirts, and the next minute she’s crying telling you how sweatshirts remind her of her autistic dog whose hip replacement she can’t afford but desperately needs – because playing fetch was the only time Mr. Cheese Poodle ever felt like himself!
Therein lies the problem with Undercover Boss. On this episode Jane Grote Abell, chairwoman of a pizza chain her Dad founded, met with a bevy of poor pizza slingers. One woman lost custody of her children. A young girl’s mother is incarcerated and she’s working at the pizza chain to make money for college. Another young girl had to start working at 16 to help cover her divorced mother’s expenses.
Chairwoman Abell takes these issues to heart and says they need a better system in place, because “We believe that everyone who is part of Donatos is family.”
Her solution is simple – throw money at these three workers she met. Because surely those are the only people struggling on their minimum wage salaries in the entire company! $40,000 for the manager’s kids to go to college! A vacation to Florida for the girl and her mom! $50,000 for a good start in life!
Jane downright beams with happiness as she is making it rain with money like a pantsuit wearing Bob Barker. Her employees had hard, almost impossible lives! And shes fixed it easily by throwing down a bit of money from the family account. She probably went to sleep thinking she had made people’s lives better and was an amazing person.
But she’s missing the point – those people are poor because she pays them very little, while she is rich because she pays them very little. The fact that she gave a very small number of employees a gift is no excuse for not paying the vast majority of them a living wage.
That’s not to say Abell is evil. Her company provides jobs for many – and all the workers are very happy to have those jobs. But there is a fundamental problem in the US in that more and more money is flowing to capital at the expense of labor. While neither the law or economics dictates that the pizza chain pay its employees a living wage, morality should. Either Abell is oblivious to how little her workers make (which makes her a bad chairman), or she doesn’t care (which makes her a bad person). The fact that her Dad created a successful pizza chain 50 years ago does not mean she should enjoy wealth that is hundreds of times larger than the other members of the “Donatos Family.”
It should never exist that a teenage girl is crying hysterically because she was given the gift of a $500 Florida vacation by a woman who spent that amount of money getting her hair done. Especially when that money was made off the back of that girl and her coworkers. Undercover Boss should not be a celebration of these CEOs once again helping out their damsel in distress employees. It should instead be an eye opening experience about the lives business owners are providing for their employees. It should be about creating enough empathy that CEOs consider returning more of the pie to the people doing the work to bake it.
But until that happens, I side with Aaron, the delivery driver who Abell temporarily fired for smoking weed. She then told Aaron he could have his minimum wage pizza delivery job back if he passed a drug test in one month. To hell with that! What’s the point of being a pizza delivery driver if you can’t smoke weed? If you want a drug free delivery boy, perhaps you should start paying $10 an hour.