Waffle House workers from Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina rallied at the 100 Piedmont Avenue store in downtown Atlanta last month after delivering a petition to management demanding better workplace safety, higher wages and an end to mandatory paycheck deductions for shift meals.
They’ve joined forces with the Union of Southern Service Workers to push for 24/7 store security and safety plans, a guaranteed $25 per hour pay rate for all Waffle House employees and the option to buy discounted shift meals.
Waffle House, which is headquartered in Norcross, did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s request for comment.
Atlanta Civic Circle spoke with Waffle House workers Gerald Green, who works at the downtown Atlanta store and John Scheussler, who works at a store in Orangeburg, South Carolina, to find out more about workplace conditions and Waffle House’s response to their petition.
Green is what’s called a Rockstar cook, after working at the 100 Piedmont Ave. store for seven years. That’s the highest he can go without breaking into the management tier.
He said workplace safety is a huge issue. “I’ve had people get injured at my store,” Green said. “It’s typical that you’re going to get cuts and burns, but I’ve even had a coworker get his fingernail ripped off.”
Scheussler said he’s been burned multiple times, has had subpar gloves melted to his hands, and has even seen coworkers receive third-degree burns on the job. He worked as a cook at Waffle House from 2017 to 2019, then returned to a South Carolina store as a server three months ago.
“The biggest issue is what [management] says is a first aid kit. It’s nothing but antiseptic, Neosporin, burn oil and alcohol wipes,” said Scheussler. “It’s been nothing but those items since I started.”
Scheussler said he offered multiple times to pay for a full first aid kit if Waffle House would reimburse him for half the cost, but management declined.
In addition to the risk of burns and other injuries, Green said, the customers can create an unsafe environment.
“My customers sometimes will show up trying to provoke me into a fight, because they think we’re all MMA fighters or something,” he said. “We’re just people trying to do our job. That’s why we’re demanding 24-hour security.
Viral videos on social media that make light of Waffle House workers dealing with hostile interactions from customers have increased the safety risks, Green added. One video that went viral earlier this year infamously shows a Waffle House cook blocking a chair that a customer threw across the counter during an altercation.
As a result, Green said, some people now come to Waffle House hoping for social media stardom. “I’m just like ‘Dude, go home. I’m not interested in fighting you,’” he said.
Employees are not trained to handle these situations, Scheussler said “We have a poster at the very back that says ‘Don’t be a hero’,” he said. “But there’s no actual safety training. That’s pretty much just saying if someone comes in to rob the place, give them what they want. But that’s it.”
Waffle House employees are also demanding a $25 per hour minimum wage for all employees, regardless of their position. Right now, only store managers typically break past the $20 per hour threshold, Green said.
As a Rockstar cook, Green can work any position in a store outside of management. (He actually began his Waffle House career seven years ago in the management training program.)
He makes $17.75 per hour at the 100 Piedmont Ave. store–a $3 per hour pay raise from his former store. “It’s still not enough, because things are getting more expensive, like gas prices lately. Everything in the world is getting more expensive and all service jobs are struggling,” Green said.
During his first stint at Waffle House, Scheussler worked as a cook. That guaranteed him a minimum pay rate of $13.50 per hour When he returned three months ago, he took a server job until a cook position opened up.
Sometimes, Scheussler said, he goes home with less than $40 in a day. “When I got hired, I was told, and I quote, ‘You’ll be making anywhere from $90 to $100 in tips a night, even on a slow night,” he said. “So now I only actually make $2 to $3 an hour a night–and there are nights where I take home as little as $14 in tips.”
Schuessler wants the stability of the cook position because of the guaranteed hourly wage. But he said his location in South Carolina has hired three cooks in the three months since he’s been back, even though management promised him the server job was just temporary.
According to Green, Waffle House management has tried to appease servers and other tipped workers by saying the company is raising their pay to $15 per hour.
But that’s misleading, he said because the hourly pay rate for servers depends on bonuses, which vary according to their sales revenue on a shift.
“Your sales could be something as simple as $500–or over $2,000. So if the server makes a lot of money on that shift, they could get [pay] bumped to $15 an hour for that shift. But if you don’t make a lot of money, you don’t make that.”
Schuessler said all of Waffle House’s employees more than deserve the $25 an hour.
“My brother, my fiancee and I, and our daughter all live together and split all bills into equal parts. Even then, splitting into equal parts, I can’t make enough to cover my share,” he said.
Waffle House will address the employees’ concerns, the company told Atlanta News First after the Sept. 11 rally. “Waffle House is proud of its long record of effectively addressing concerns our associates report to us,” Waffle House vice president of public relations Njeri Boss said in a statement to Atlanta News First. “We intend to do that directly with our associates.”
But Schuessler and Green said there still haven’t been any conversations with store managers or Waffle House corporate about having their demands met. “I think we’re going to have to do follow-up actions,” said Green. “I don’t see Waffle House caving. It’s certainly going to take a while, but I’m in it for the long haul. Everybody in the union is ready for the fight.”
“There are a lot of Waffle Houses across the state of Georgia. And I’m hoping that more [employees] hear this, so that they know they’re not alone–that there’s a lot of people that are fighting for them,” Schuessler added.