Home » The internet gave this man $400,000. It’s not a feel-good story

The internet gave this man $400,000. It’s not a feel-good story

Kevin Ford worked for decades at a Las Vegas airport Burger King without ever taking an unplanned sick day. He often worked late into the night. In those years he surely worked through sickness—the kind of sickness where it’s equally true that you should be resting at home and that you should not be cooking food for other people. He worked through pain. When he needed back surgery because of the long hours he worked while standing on hard floors, he used vacation days. And after more than two decades, his employer recognized Ford’s reliability and dedication … with a bag containing a movie ticket, some candy, and a cup.

Ford posted a TikTok video of himself opening his gift, intending to celebrate the recognition he’d gotten. But when many viewers pointed out how outrageously stingy it was on the part of his employer, his daughter posted a GoFundMe, which over the course of a year took in $400,000.

Ford plans to continue working at Burger King, NPR reported, but the money will allow him to spend more time with his family, have a decent retirement, and help his grandchildren with college. What’s striking about the NPR report on Ford’s story is that it’s—very appropriately—less celebratory than news coverage of many similar TikTok Walmart retirement stories. Ford is open about what he lost.

“There was nothing but work in my life,” he told NPR. “Looking back, what was it all for? Why I was not missing days that I could’ve spent with my kids and my wife?” But he answered his own question in the same interview, saying, “I’d be laying down in front of the fryers because I was in so much pain and people would tell me to go home, but I was thinking about the power bill or the water bill.” 

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These stories of workers so outstanding that the public rises up and gives them money tell us so much about the U.S. economic system over the past several decades. Without mandatory paid sick leave in this country, people are regularly faced with the choice between working through sickness and pain or paying the power bill. Even with Social Security—which Republican presidential candidates are looking to cut—retirement is out of reach for many people working the grueling physical jobs that make them need an early retirement because their bodies can’t go on. But all of that systemic injustice only rarely draws a big response. Instead, a few exemplary individuals get the sympathy and the outpouring of gifts. It’s deserved, but it’s not a fix to the system.

Ford himself noted that people weren’t just giving him money, they were making a statement about his working conditions, saying, “I think they just wanted to show my employer and other CEOs that people deserve to be congratulated, rewarded, even just acknowledged for their hard work and dedication.” But while congratulations and acknowledgement are nice, fair pay and paid sick leave and retirement security are better. And while it’s wonderful that Kevin Ford will have a more comfortable life and some retirement security going forward, there are too many people out there who are still choosing between a needed sick day and the power bill, with retirement a distant dream.

Everyone always talks about redistricting, but what is it like to actually do it? Oregon political consultant Kari Chisholm joins us on this week’s episode of “The Downballot” to discuss his experience as a member of Portland’s new Independent District Commission, a panel of citizens tasked with creating the city’s first-ever map for its city council. Kari explains why Portland wanted to switch from at-large elections to a district-based system, how new multimember districts could boost diversity on the council, and the commission’s surprisingly effective efforts to divide the city into four equal districts while heeding community input.


August 2023