The worker shortages caused by the pandemic are being felt nationwide, and a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, is no exception. CBS News reports that a strike there is now at day 16, with a local union saying many workers are putting in 84-hour weeks. That's 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. As an exec with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union puts it, "They are forcing the current workforce to work double and triple shifts. Workers do not have enough time to see their family, do chores around the house, run errands or even get a healthy night's sleep." The strike reportedly came after workers declined to accept a new contract that offered a 2% raise and 60-hour cap on workweeks. More:
- Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay said about 550 of its 800 Topeka employees are on strike, and it pushed back on what it calls "grossly exaggerated" claims, saying its records show only 19 employees hit the 84-hour mark in 2021, all but 3 of whom voluntarily took the overtime.
- But some workers tell Vice they haven't had a day off from their 7-days-a-week schedule in as many as five months. Mark McCarter, who has logged 37 years at the plant, puts it so: "A lot of these guys come in with the understanding that they'll be here for eight hours but then they got to call their wives and kids and say, 'Guess what? It's not eight hours. It's 12 hours and then I have to go back to work at 3am.'"
- Business Insider reports that one worker claims his hourly pay has increased by only 77 cents in his 12 years at the plant. Frito-Lay says hourly wages range from $18.35 to $36.91.
- In an open letter to Frito-Lay published in the Topeka Capital-Journal, employee Cherie Renfro shares some grievances. Among them: "During the COVID-19 lockdown, a co-worker's father passed away in another state. You told her since there wasn't a funeral she didn't qualify for bereavement time. She had to take off two of her own days to grieve."
- One more from Renfro: "When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going." Frito-Lay confirms 2 employees have suffered medical emergencies and died at the plant over the last 5 years and says "work ceased until the associates were safely on the way to the hospital."
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