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By Mary Shedden | The Tampa Tribune | April 28, 2007

Wheels Helps Drive Worker Success

TAMPA - When Kacelia Clark pulled the early shift at work, she never left before saying a prayer.

The longtime McDonald's employee knew her 4 a.m. walk along busy Fletcher Avenue was dark and dangerous. The mother of two had no car, no bus to ride and no choice if she wanted to keep her job.

"I'd pray every day," she said. "I would pray before I went outside to make sure I got to work."

Clark's fear of the pre-dawn trek ended this week when through the local Wheels of Success program she purchased her first vehicle, a white 1997 Ford Taurus.

"Now I can do my own job and not wait on somebody else," said Clark, recently named an assistant manager at the restaurant.

Hers is one of the 125 stories of working poor individuals assisted by Wheels of Success since 2003. The nonprofit organization provides and repairs donated used cars for low- and moderate-income workers able to make small zero-interest payments.

And she's the 12th McDonald's employee able to buy a car in the past year, said Allison Casper Adams, owner-operator of 52 McDonald's restaurants in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

The company is one of several to team up with Wheels of Success, which held an awards luncheon Friday to recognize companies supporting the program.

Adams spoke with The Tampa Tribune about how transportation is one of McDonald's biggest work force concerns.

Have you always been aware that transportation or the lack of it affected your work force?

It's always been an issue. I was a store manager, and people couldn't come to work because they missed the bus, or they couldn't work certain hours because the bus didn't run. We have 14 restaurants open 24 hours, and the others open at 5 a.m., so it's tough unless they have a way to work.

Caspers Co. offers employees discounted bus passes and covers cab fare in emergencies. But assistant and store managers - the top paying jobs - must have a car for making bank deposits or visiting other McDonald's locations. Why is it essential that people wanting to move up in many companies have their own car?

We recognized many, many years ago how important transportation was in reliability. We started giving our full managers company cars after they've been a manager for six months. We know that they're the top dog. If they're not there, then we're really in trouble.

Between 75 percent and 85 percent of your 2,500 employees are adults, including many single mothers. Does not having a car affect their ability to juggle family and flexibility?

What happens is not so much that they can't get there. Oftentimes they live very close to the restaurant. It's that they can't work those extended hours. They can't be there at 5 in the morning. And for them to be [an assistant] manager, with the maximum amount of pay, they have to have a car.

Employees with transportation problems struggle to get to work on time, sometimes losing their job. But why should business owners be concerned about it, since transportation ultimately is the worker's responsibility?

If they don't have a car, well, they can't come to work, and they lose their job, and so it's like a Catch-22 for them. Now they don't have any way to make money to fix that car, and it's terrible. It's very frustrating. The environment has just changed. The unemployment rate is so low in Florida, and we just have to deal with people issues. We've got to be a lot more aware about what's going on in employees' lives. To get them into the restaurant and get them hired to begin with is huge. And to keep them there, it's really important. This [program] is making their lives easier.

When an employee gets their own car, it creates a level of independence. How does that affect their productivity, self-esteem and the success of your business?

They are so much better. It helps them in their personal life. They are able to run errands, go to the doctor, do what they need to do. They are reliable. I keep saying it, but it is so true. At our restaurant, if one person is missing, chaos can ensue. It's like missing a wheel when someone is not there. When our restaurants are running poorly, it's a horrible environment to work in. No one wants to be there. It's just like you're spiraling down. It really has a great impact when everybody is able to be there on time.

For information about Wheels of Success, call (813) 417-1090 or visit www.wheelsofsuccess .org.

Reporter Mary Shedden can be reached at (813)259-7365 or mshedden@tampatrib.com.

 
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