WAREHAM – Most fast food customers are unphased by occasional bad service. Some chains are worse than others. Few people would expect a customer complaint about poor quality service at a Wendy's to result in a national argument on both the opioid crisis and the labor pool.

Matthew Rose of Wareham said he was initially prompted to contact the corporate office of Wendy’s after receiving poor service at their Cranberry Hwy location on two separate occasions on August 3rd and 6th. Earlier this week, he received a response from district manager Keith edward Helger which not only offended Rose, who had initially complained about about the understaffed location’s wait time, but has gone viral throughout social media—drawing criticism from both town administration as well as the general public.

“I apologize for your experiences at this location,” Helger’s email read in part. “Not an excuse but the town of Wareham has little to no talent pool to hire from. This is an ongoing issue in that area. We are constantly interviewing and hiring any and all qualified candidates. Unfortunately, those candidates are hard to come by, as most are recovering addicts, and we cannot hire them.”

“Completely cruel,” Rose told WCVB earlier this week. “(It) didn’t even touch on the problems I told him.”

“I’m shocked and disappointed that a respected company like Wendy’s would openly disparage an entire community like Keith Helger did with his woefully shortsighted comments,” stated Town Administrator Keith Sullivan. “No community, including Wareham, has been spared from the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic. But to single out and demean Wareham and the hard-working people in recovery from the disease of addiction is about as tasteless as it gets. Wareham is a diverse community where people work hard for what they have ... What we don’t do is denigrate or throw away those with addiction issues or belittle them. We get them help.”

Wareham, a town of 22,000 residents, has seen a surge in opioid related usage in the past few years. Statistics from 2017 indicate a 40 percent increase in 2017 in comparison to four years earlier, with 14 reported fatalities. According to a 2017 study from the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, approximately 9.2 percent of the 22 million Americans currently in recovery are jobless involuntarily.

"Not everybody who has a drug problem is a criminal," Rose responded. "If you're recovering, that means you're trying to do the right thing, you're trying to get back on track. There's no reason they can't hire a recovering addict."

The Wareham location overseen by Helger was fined $500 last August by the local Board of Health due to numerous complaints of sanitation violations.”I took over the store a year ago and we have a new management team in place,” Helger told the board. “We are working on staffing and it is a very tough situation.”

“These comments are inconsistent with our company’s values and do not reflect Wendy’s hiring practices,” Wendy’s corporate office stated in response to Helger’s email earlier this week. “We work hard to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in our restaurants and will address this appropriately.”

A corporate officer from Wendy’s indicated Helger has been suspended pending an internal investigation.

Image by Michael Form from Pixabay