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Frito-Lay workers go on strike in Kansas

Employees at a Frito-Lay factory in Kansas have gone on strike as a result of terrible working conditions, made worse by the pandemic.

Factory workers for American crisp company Frito-Lay are currently on strike in Kansas as a result of excessive overtime, a lack of staff care, and poor working conditions.

Speaking to VICE, long-time employees say they are routinely forced to work twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week, leading to health problems such as heart attacks and exhaustion.

News of the strike has gone viral on Twitter, as consumers in the US push for a boycott of all Frito-Lay products. This includes Doritos, Cheetos, and Funyuns, all very popular foods in America.

The situation has spurred on a wider conversation around worker rights and the exploitative practices of large, multi-national corporations. Covid-19 has put pressure on many factory and labour employees to increase their hours and make up for staff shortages with little incentive other than a fear of redundancy.

With companies like Amazon routinely facing accusations of overworking staff, and food producers such as Burger King losing entire teams of staff in one go, should we be doing more to protect the rights of workers that appear to be eroding? Social media seems to think so.

What has been the public and company response?

Predictably, Frito-Lay has denied the accusations of overtime and staff exhaustion, despite very detailed and specific accounts from workers. One employee, Mark McCarter, recalls an incident in which a colleague died inside the factory.

‘One guy died a few years ago and the company had people pick him up, move him over to the side, and put another person in his spot without shutting the business down for two seconds,’ he said to VICE.

Frito-Lay has pushed back against this story, stating that it ‘wholly rejects the allegation that an employee collapsed and died.’ It also says it has worked with relevant unions to offer increased wages and ‘improved work rules’ to minimise overtime, with a cap of 60 hours per week of ‘required labour’.

Social media buzz remains firmly on the side of the strikers, however, with Twitter users calling out parent company PepsiCo’s significant increase in profits and net worth over the last few decades. Worker’s wages have not increased at the same rate.

Why is this a larger issue for labour workers in general?

While this strike may seem like an isolated incident, it is something we’re hearing about more frequently from large businesses and brands.

As mentioned, companies such as Amazon and Whole Foods have put pressure on lower-end workers to make up for numbers and demand due to the pandemic, largely at the expense of mental and physical wellbeing.

Couple this with an innate fear of taking time off, as well as nearly half of US workers reporting having mental health issues since the beginning of the pandemic, and you’ve a situation that seems to benefit CEOs and share holders much more than labourers.

This is also reflected in rates of pay compared to inflation and company growth. Salaries have seldom improved despite costs of living rising, making many minimum wage jobs impossible to reasonably live on.

Inequality has grown exponentially in the last forty years or so too, as wealth disparity continues to widen. Studies show that Covid-19 has boosted this further, with the richest ten people on Earth enjoying an extra $637 billion since the beginning of 2020.

Private unions created to protect the rights of lower end employees have also seen a steady decline, making it harder for factory employees to express dissatisfaction or go on strike without worry of a backlash or job loss.

Though it seems things are moving in a positive direction with Frito-Lay, it’s worth keeping in mind that the new, proposed work cap is still 60 hours a week. That equates to twelve-hour shifts, five days a week – which is still far too much.

Creating widespread change and improving the rights of our essential and key workers is admittedly very difficult, but your best bet is to boycott products and services from brands that abuse workers. Keeping in the loop online and writing to your local government are also important steps.

The best way we can help is to be conscious consumers and make smart, ethical decisions that consider those who provide us the items we buy. The less people dying to make Doritos, the better.


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