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Week in Review: July 18-23, 2021

July 23, 2021
A look at recent headlines about worker conditions.

When we saw an article about “suicide shifts,” it reminded us of other stories we recently read about working conditions.

Without further ado, here are a few of those stories.

As always, stay safe, be healthy and keep cool!

A Petition to Pass on the Chips

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kan., are striking for a third week over what they say are poor working conditions.

Chief among those complaints are so-called “suicide shifts,” whereby workers only get an eight-hour break between shifts as a way to deal with a staffing shortage.

Workers’ union Local 218 Chief Steward Paul Klemme described how it works in a podcast for The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union. He said workers who clock in for a 7 a.m to 3 p.m. shift are often forced to work four hours of overtime, "then [the company will] turn you right around and bring you in at 3 o'clock in the morning. So, you only have 8 hours off to get home, shower, see your family, get some sleep and get back to work."

PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay, says these claims about mandatory overtime “have been grossly exaggerated” and that only about 2% of workers at the plant averaged more than 60 hours per week.

The discussions continue between the workers’ union and company continue.

Read the full story here.

Protecting Workers from Heat

Following last month’s record-setting heat wave, Oregon has adopted an emergency rule to protect workers from extreme heat.

The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) said the temporary rule was effective immediately and stays in place for 180 days.

“In the face of an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest — and tragic consequences — it is absolutely critical that we continue to build up our defenses against the effects of climate change, including extreme heat events,” said Andrew Stolfi, director of the state agency that includes Oregon OSHA.

When the heat index is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must provide access to shade and have an adequate supply of drinking water.

When the heat index rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, employers must also communicate to workers how to report concerns, ensure supervisors know how to observe employees for signs of heat illness and provide a rest period of 10 minutes in the shade for every two hours of work.

Read the full story here.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Last month, The New York Times published an investigative report on JFK8, Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City.

It’s an ambitious piece, the kind of reporting the Times is famous for. The three bylined authors interviewed nearly 200 current and former employees, reviewed company documents, legal filings, government records and warehouse feedback boards. It took us nearly an hour to read, but it was a riveting account of the people who make two-day and same-day orders possible.

There’s a lot to unpack, but here are a few details that have stuck with us.

On worker turnover: “With the high churn, multiple current and former Amazon executives fear there simply will not be enough workers. In the more remote towns where Amazon based its early U.S. operations, it burned through local labor pools and needed to bus people in.”

On record profits: “In July, Amazon announced $5.2 billion in earnings for the quarter — a record, until the next quarter brought $6.3 billion. Amazon had been ‘running pretty much full out’ since the beginning of May when more people were back at work, Brian Olsavsky, the company’s finance chief, explained on a call with reporters. That let the online retailer meet the enormous demand more efficiently, working at full capacity around the clock. It was like Black Friday every single day.”

On Oct. 13, 2020, also known as Prime Day: “To meet the moment, the warehouse was absorbing entire friend and family units without job interviews, and in most cases, little to no conversation between employer and applicants.”

Read the full story here.

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