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Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas, have gone on strike citing grueling working conditions and poor treatment by the company. On July 2, 2021, one of those workers, Cherie Renfro, wrote an op-ed essay for the Topeka Capital-Journal, in which she made a grim allegation.
“When a co-worker collapsed and died,” Renfro wrote, “you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”
The same allegation was made by another worker at the Topeka site, Mark McCarter, who relayed his story to Vice:
I can tell you that many people have had heart attacks in the heat at Frito-Lay since I’ve been here. 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.
It seems like I go to one funeral a year for someone who’s had a heart attack at work or someone who went home to their barn and shot themselves in the head or hung themselves.
Other accusations made by the workers include demoralizing and unsafe working conditions, like poor pay and refusing to give raises to appease stockholders; allowing items at work sites to block exits and forcing employees to work in hazardous smoke from a fire; and forcing employees to work overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I haven’t gotten a raise in a decade,” McCarter stated in the Vice piece. “Three years ago, I got a $600 bonus that was taxed, and three years before that I got another $600 bonus. That was my only “raise” for the past 10 years. This is from a Fortune 500 company that is making billions.”
In a statement sent to Snopes, the company denied that a worker who died on the assembly line was moved aside while work continued.
“We are aware of only two instances in the last five years in which an individual has experienced a medical emergency at the plant that unfortunately resulted in that individual passing away. In both cases, medical attention was initially provided at the plant and work ceased until the associates were safely on the way to the hospital,” Frito-Lay said.
The company said it had “no knowledge” of any workers taking their own lives as the result of working conditions.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation into the Topeka work site in May 2021 after an employee was injured while operating a forklift. We reached out to OSHA to asking whether the agency was aware of reports of an employee death at the facility in the manner described above. and the agency said it had no such reports. Companies are required to file reports of workplace deaths with OSHA within eight hours.
On July 24, 2021, the company announced it had reached an agreement with the union ending the nearly three week-long strike.
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